Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Bish talking pish

This time it's Bishop Nazir-Ali - channeling Melanie Phillips with his complaint that the decline of Christianity has created a moral vacuum, which is being filed with the dastardly Islamists. Read it if you must but you'll have guessed the content already: unless you fancy being blown up by a suicide bomber, you better put your fornicating dick back in your trousers and haste ye to church. A number of bloggers have commented already but I'm going to be boring enough to make a couple of observations of my own:

1) I was struck by the similarities between this article and the one by Archbishop Rowan Williams with his call for sharia law. Both were couched in psuedo-academic language and while on different subjects, the underlying message was about the imperative to preserve - indeed extend - the influence of religion in the 'public sphere'. This despite the fact - no, because of the fact - that the observance of Christianity is in decline in Britain today. Both Williams and Nazir-Ali are about preserving the privileged position of Anglicanism within our constitution. I don't think this similarity was well-noted - and there hasn't been the same 'liberals' defending Nazir-Ali in the way they did Williams, for fairly obvious reasons.

2) Both in Nazir-Ali's article and the criticisms of it, I was struck by the way everyone seems to be seeing discontinuities all over the place. For Nazir-Ali, it's this bizarre idea that the decline of Christianity can be dated from the 1960s and the supposed 'cultural revolution'. Apparently to support this ahistorical thesis, he quoted the historian Callum Brown. Now, I haven't read Callum's The Death of Christian Britain but I doubt very much whether Nazir-Ali's account of it is accurate - unless Callum Brown has changed his mind radically since he wrote this . And even if it was a fair reading, the idea that the decline in the family and the supposed general collapse in social mores can be imputed to the church's capitulation to a sexual revolution advocated by 'Marxists' and facilitated by female contraception is completely absurd. As if the decline in the church's power wasn't something that has been going on for centuries rather than decades.

On the other hand, some of the critics have an equally odd view of the history of ideas and institutions - as if something called the 'Enlightenment' fell out of the sky and brought the influence of Christianity to an abrupt end at some point in the 18th century. One is left wondering where these people think ideas come from? This isn't even sub-Hegelian idealism - it's just downright weird, which brings me to the final point:

3) Nazir-Ali's caricature of Marxism is ridiculous - and I have to say, to create a straw man and then fail to knock it down takes a special kind of intellectual incompetence. The thing is, while I'm not a Marxist myself, I've been thinking alot whether it doesn't hold part of the answer to the breakdown in the family that everyone is on about these days. Contraception doesn't contribute to this anything like as much as is assumed since by definition families that part are by definition people who have not used contraception at least once. No, people divorce, separate, because they can. It is this that is a new thing - but too much stress is placed on the social and legal framework that allows them to do so. Rather people separate because rising wealth means that to do so no longer invites economic disaster in the way it used to. This, surely, is something resembling a Marxist insight?

A related aside: I get infuriated with sanctimonious Christians who talk about divorce as the 'easy option'. Smug bastards who don't understand how often it is that the easy option, the soft option, is the one to stay. If they read the book they claim to believe every word of, they might understand this. Have they not read that the way of the transgressor is hard?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On voting systems and the far-right

In response to Mike Ion's post about the best way to confront the BNP, Chris Dillow makes the following argument:
"The fact is that our electoral system gives Labour little incentive to fight the far-right, or listen to its core supporters.

Labour will not lose the next election because of the rise of the BNP in places like Stoke (Mike's example). It makes no difference if Labour's 10,000 majorities in Stoke's constituencies are cut by thousands because of the BNP or abstainers. What will cost Labour the election is the loss of places like Worcester or Oxford West. And although abstentions or BNP votes by white working class voters in those areas could be a problem, they are less a danger than middle-income floating voters swinging to the Tories. It was his grasp of this fact that helped Blair win three elections.

So, could it be that ignoring its core support - and the rise in the BNP this threatens - is one of the prices we must pay for our first-past-the-post system?"
Oh dear, oh dear. I'm inclined to apologise in advance for the tone of this response because electoral systems is part of the Modern Studies syllabus and while I'm a fan of our Chris, I'm really struggling to avoid going into default sarcasmo-teacher mode here - which is what I would be doing if one of my senior pupils submitted an essay with an evidence-free bullshit argument like this.

Every pupil knows - or at least the ones that attend my classes do - that PR facilitates the representation of minorities that tend to be penalized in a majoritarian voting system. All very well and good if these minority parties are cuddly ones like those Greens who want you to put windmills on your roof. But we hope that they would also be able to grasp that the representation of minorities isn't an unalloyed benefit if the minorities in question happen to be vicious bastards like the BNP.

We would then go on to make an international comparison. I don't concern myself with English local government on the grounds that a) we're not English b) it's not in the syllabus c) it's boring - and compare national legislatures instead. We can confine ourselves to this point: with the exception of Germany, which has banned explicitly neo-Nazi parties for obvious historical reasons, there is only one other European country that has no representatives from fascist parties in its national legislature. That country is Britain. We could congratulate ourselves for a national character that proscribes this - but I take the view that FPTP might just have something to do with it. No Greens - but no fascists either: that may be the price we pay for our majoritarian system. If so, it's one well-worth paying.

But too much is claimed for voting systems anyway and a lot of crap - historical and contemporary - is written about them as a consequence. Weimar? Don't get me started. PR produces greater economic growth? It shouldn't have taken the rise of China before this was filed under 'bullshit'. Increases voter turnout? See all these jounos and bloggers who pontificate about the international situation - have they heard of a small province at the north of Britain called Scotland? Evidence past and present would tend to suggest not. PR is 'fairer'? It's a coincidence that parties tend to argue that the system that is 'fair' just so happens to benefit them, is it? Gimme a fucking break. Actually, there is an exception to this: one party in Scotland opposed both devolution and the PR system Holyrood adopted - despite the fact that they clearly benefited - and this would be the Scottish Tories. But don't give them too much credit for this because they seem to have changed their minds recently. Funny that.

In this vein, I need to qualify the above observations about far-right representation. There's another country in Europe that doesn't have this in its national legislature and it is Scotland. Will this be enough to ditch this nonsense about voting systems? Greater variables are at play. We have PR yet no BNP. Amongst the reasons for this is because the BNP are, despite their name, a fundamentally English phenomenon. But what if this were not so - ditch PR? No, no - ask yourself: what do you want your voting system to do - then leave it at that. There are other ways of dealing with the far-right and here I find myself in disagreement with Mike Ion as well as Chris. Address the problems of the working class because it is a matter of good policy, of justice, but fuck the BNP. Hasn't history taught us that fascists have moveable grievances that take on a momentum of their own and have little connection with their supposed original 'causes'?

Here I find my liberalism stretches only so far as to give them enough rope to hang themselves. Should this fail they should be crushed without pity. You can complain that this is undemocratic and illiberal if you like but understand this: remembering that the concept of 'enemies of the state' has sinister precedents shouldn't blind us to the fact that the state does indeed have enemies - and that history teaches us liberty folds when it has delegitimized the means by which it must defend itself. Or to understate it another way: one should be parsimonious with the freedom we allow those who would extend it to no-one but themselves.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Reasons for not watching telly #47

Goddam TV chefs - especially those 'calling' for things. People calling for things are usually complete assholes - especially if they happen to be TV chefs.

In fairness to Delia, I'm not aware of her calling for anything as such. However, I bought a bottle of soya sauce at the supermarket the other day and was most distressed to find a label on it that identified it as a "Delia cheat ingredient". Now, how exactly the fuck does one 'cheat' with soya sauce? Your recipe either requires it or it doesn't.

But this is but a trifling annoyance compared to Gordon "I'll tell everyone else how to run a restaurant but the one I opened in Glasgow failed" Ramsay:
"Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay says British restaurants should be fined if they serve fruit and vegetables which are not in season."
I'd hate to sound like one of these internet libertarians but I really think this is one thing that the old market can take care of. Presumably if there are enough people who feel as strongly about out of season vegetables as he does, they'll vote with their quids and the business will suffer. You know, like the restaurant he opened in Glasgow did. (Apparently he was very upset about this - an excellent reason for rubbing it in, I feel.)

But this in turn is a trifling piece of stupidity compared to that expounded by Jamie "let's drive half the schoolchildren in the country away from the canteen" Oliver - according to the Times:
" Jamie Oliver believes that women should abstain from sex with their husbands or boyfriends to punish them if they refuse to cook."
He 'believes' this, does he? In fairness, he does understand men reasonably well...
""Men are driven by sex," the celebrity chef said this weekend at the annual Hay-on-Wye festival."
On the other hand, you should really file this breath-taking revelation under, "No shit, Sherlock." Plus his understanding of women is fairly appalling:
"So the best way for women to get their men into the kitchen would be to stop having sex with them until they start to cook."
Now tell me this: what kind of warm-blooded woman - nay, even tepid-blooded woman - would forgo a good shag in favour of some dog-shit meal some hitherto unpracticed male could come up with? Unless, of course, someone isn't doing something right...

Jamie Oliver: Where's Will? Will, in your revolution do we get to shoot this Sainsbury's advertising, dumb muthafucka?

Monday, May 19, 2008

How to lose the next election

It may be too late anyway and I doubt it would be a decisive variable but if you're a Labour activist and you are determined to make the party's prospects at the next election more dire than they are already, you could always take up the 'Tory toff' line that the local party are apparently pushing in Crewe and Nantwich. This is profoundly wrong-headed for at least two reasons:

1) Please don't make excuses for it on the basis that it's old-fashioned 'class war' rhetoric because even if it could be accepted that this was desirable, it isn't even that. This has nothing to do with an electoral promise to make Britain a more equal society, to take on bastions of privilege. It isn't even a meritocratic line that says they want to make Britain a place where it doesn't matter where you went to school.

No, it's saying everything is as it is and there ain't nothing we can do about it but vote for us because we're better placed to manage it than a bunch of toffs. This isn't class war - it's culture war. And even on this basis it doesn't work. Blair went to Fettes, for goodness sake - hardly an inner-city comp. If the fact that it's leader went to a posh school is a good reason for not voting for a party, where were the class warriors making this point in 1997, 2001 and 2005?

And while we're on the subject, what do these London commentators think the background of the 'son o' the manse' actually consisted of? Dismal presbyterianism, certainly (only a Guardian writer could think this was a selling point) - but being the son of a Church of Scotland minister is hardly a background in which one would learn first hand the reality of biting poverty.

2) To the extent it is embraced by the party, this culture war bullshit is indicative of a tendency that I've argued previously is absolutely suicidal for any democratic political party - mistaking your rank and file for the electorate. We already know hatred of toffs plays well with the grassroots through the colossal waste of Parliamentary time that was spent banning fox-hunting. It just so happened this was an issue that while relatively unimportant to them, was in tune with the majority of the electorate.

But they're not going to buy this shit. Labour claimed credit for benign economic circumstances that were in reality beyond their control - now they're going to have a job convincing people that the bad shit that is happening now is beyond their competence. They have nothing to say about inequality; social policy has to do with out-Torying the Tories whilst they abandon their core vote. But vote for us anyway because the other lot are led by a toff? Gimme a break. There's a lot of reasons why this line won't take but here's another one, as if it were needed: don't you think it's just possible that the average floating voter might ask themselves, "If Cameron's such an ineffectual fop, how come I can watch him giving the 'Clunking Fist' a beating any time I tune in to PMQ's?".

Friday, May 16, 2008

On bloggers, memes and music

I tend not to respond to bloggers' memes for a couple of reasons.

It's not out of rudeness, I trust - it's just that most of the time I don't know the answers to the questions.

I'm not very good, for example, at deciding who or what is my favourite author, novel, poet, poem, film, director, composer is. They change from week to week, month to month.

And some of this shit I'm not interested in - which brings me to the second point: I don't think they exactly encourage intellectual honesty. No-one, for example, ever answers the question, "What are you reading now?", with, "Fuck all - by the time I've got the we'an to bed I'm too tired/stoned/broken-hearted to read a fucking book", do they? Or, "I don't have a favourite composer - my tastes are strictly plebian and I hate classical music". Maybe that's because it's just me.

But Martin's is worth responding to because I'd been thinking about bloggers and music: even with, or especially with, those bloggers you like and respect - how rare it is to come across music they link to that I even recognise. And even when I recognise it, with the exception of Eric who stuck up an AC/DC link once, and Will who put the Manics up - both here - I don't recall ever coming across a blogger-linked song I've ever liked.

What the fuck is this, for example, from Martin's own list? The only artist I recognise is Bruce Springsteen - who was, and is, complete shit, in my view.

Or Paulie's? The only thing I recognise here is The Specials - who were like shit having a bad day.

Tastes are divergent - mine are deviant, I'd accept - but I can't help wondering if bloggers really like this shit or if they're trying a wee bit too hard to be different, minority, cool, authentic?

Anyway, I liked this meme because it asked what we are listening to now - for whatever reason. Jus' so happens I think I've got a YouTube link for most of these cos I've just wired up some sound to my computer an' that's what I've been doing. Here's some with a wee explanation - I trust you'll find these choices too mainstream and uncool for your tastes.

Song #1

A lot of bloggers are about the same age as me so grew up with the same kind of music. While most of them seem to have retained some kind of affection for it - by and large I hated it. I was learning to play guitar at the time. Was there ever a decade since the 1950s less suited to this enterprise? I think not. It was full of people, like Duran Duran, who - had we lived in a civilised society - would have been executed on the spot. This was ok, though. I remember a video jukebox in the pub we used to drink in when I was about 18. This was the only song on it I liked.

Song #2

'Stairway to Heaven' for the acid house generation. Unlike #1, this isn't so much of a nostalgia exercise because I came to it comparatively late. A friend of mine complains that it's overplayed - but it is 'overplayed' because it's really good. I never learned to read and write so well but I can play the guitar just like ringing a bell so let me tell you with a certain claim to authority - most musicians are complete assholes. They tell drummer jokes, for example. These are like Irish jokes, only less funny. And they are, by and large, a bunch of snobs who can't recognise when people are better at their craft than they are. Such is the case with Slash here. Guitar snobs would dismiss him as vulgar, unsubtle. As if when rock and roll is concerned this counts as a criticism. But it's better than that: all heavy rock is essentially the repetition of a riff played against a blues structure. This is the case here - except here the staple riff is played on the high notes. What's so special about that? Apart from Clapton on Layla, or Jimmy Page on Black Dog, apparently no one else thought of doing it - there simply is no other tune that is instantly recognisable in this way. Furthermore, I have never heard Clapton nor Page using the harmonic structure in the way Slash does here. If you know otherwise, answers in the comments please.

Song #3

Listening to this because I always do. It's my favourite Stones song. The brooding menace of the introduction, the grinding sensuality of this dark song - what's not to like? If you don't like this, you are insane and I refuse to talk to you.

Song #4

Man - the break-up blues. Into the third month and some days, most days, it feels like it happened yesterday. I wish I had died in Paris. I could explain this remark but I won't. Anyway, what to do when you're in this state? Listen to some blues and soul - that's what you do. Well, I do anyway - and here's a recent discovery - like, the last week, for me. This gal can really sing.

Song #5

When I was learning to play geetar, I couldn't see past Reckless John for years. Here he plays with his old sparring partner, the great Danny Thompson. I saw Thompson recall how they never rehearsed - they just went from the pub into the studio, or gig, or whatever and just did it. On the video you can see this, with Thompson waiting for the first few bars to see what the fuck our John was doing. How he was able to do this, I don't understand. The tuning that John is using is DADGAD, if anyone's interested. I know this, and I can see it but it's still difficult to work out what he's doing here. Anyway, this is the best song from this album and it's the best version - shame about the sound quality.

That's five. There's plenty of others I could link. But I'm doing a repetition of the above a lot of the time.

Here's #6 - John with our Danny again.

Here's #7. Not liking this is indicative of having no testicles. Nice homage to Madonna around 2.50 on this - the difference here being, as I've already said, this gal can actually sing.

I won't tag anyone else with this on the Golden Rule grounds: do unto others and all that...

Apologies to Manchester

Since I wasn't there, I would be inclined to defer to the greater knowledge that Jamie K has on the subject of the disgraceful behaviour of Rangers' fans in Manchester this week. But he is one primary source amongst many and after a brief survey of these, I'm more inclined to think he's been a little over-generous in his assessment:
"I don’t think the City Council can plead technical failure here. If you’re going to invite tens of thousands of Glaswegians down to Manchester on a promise of all day drinking and the big match televised live, then technical failure is not an option."
But it is - because technical failure is always a possibility. According to the Scotsman, the response to this was to pelt police officers with beer bottles.

I was going to post a couple of video clips but they are too disgusting. I'm angry and bitterly ashamed of the behaviour of my tribe here. (Your tribe: you don't choose it - it chooses you. Don't let any journalist/blogger/professional Scotsman wanker tell you otherwise. As if it was something akin to a Guardian reader deciding between the Lib Dems, the Greens, or electing to stick with Labour after all.)

Without being there, I think a couple of excuses/qualifications that are being made for the behaviour of the fans can be dismissed immediately. For example:

They're not 'real fans'.

Gimme a fucking break. We've got a whole lot of people who took time off work or bunked off school to travel to Manchester without tickets to watch the game on a big fucking telly when they could have had the same thing going on for them if they'd went to Hampden instead. This is the behaviour of a 'fan' in the original sense, surely?

The police were heavy-handed.

Again, I wasn't there so I consult primary sources. In none of the clips available is there any record of the police using tear gas, plastic bullets, water-cannon, shit like that. Not nearly heavy-handed enough, in other words.

They were in a minority.

Of course they're in a minority. They're always in a minority. Like the minority that can turn Sauchiehall Street into a battle-zone on the odd Friday night. The problem isn't that they represent the majority - it's that the the majority through the various representative institutions available to us do fuck all about them. For example:
"Asked why police had not enforced bylaws prohibiting drinking in public, [Ms Curran] said it was impractical and could have sparked dangerous exchanges, as there were 200,000 people and the force had only 8,000 officers."
With all due respect to Ms Curran, it's entirely practical. Glasgow has a by-law preventing the consumption of alcohol in public places too. And drinking at football matches has been banned for years. These rioting pricks knew the script - they should have been made to follow it.

I fucking hate neds. Sick of them. Everyone in Glasgow is - everyone that isn't one themselves, that is. The comments you can read under the various YouTube clips of this illustrate the scale of the stupidity problem we've got going on here. Idiots trying to pretend this is exclusively Rangers' problem. As if the city police cells are only going to be filled with protestants tonight. As if it wasn't Glasgow's problem, Scotland's problem, Britain's problem. As if it wasn't the case that there probably isn't another city in Europe that would allow its streets to be taken over by drunken fuckwits in the way we do in this country, in the way we do in Glasgow.

Monday, May 12, 2008

On the human condition

Here's some good stuff elsewhere. Norm commenting on this article regarding the necessity of social dishonesty, for example:
"There's a school of thought according to which, if you have 'issues' with people you know reasonably well, the best policy is to be upfront about it. Just say what's on your mind, talk things through in an open way. My own experience, for what it's worth, is that this can easily bring on disaster. There are people between whom it can work, done with care and mutual consideration - some family, some intimate others. But with those at a greater emotional remove, and even with some friends, directness often burns too hot. Better stick to conventional forms of politeness: to tact, discretion, not saying what you think."
I once asked a friend of mine what he thought the role of honesty was in a relationship. He said it didn't have one - you could have one or the other but you couldn't have both. Overstating the point a little - but there's a kernel of truth there. The idea that one should always say what one thinks is true in every situation is for people who imagine they only have duties to themselves and not to other people.

Completely unrelated, here's Chris Dillow expressing his misgivings about abortion. File this under, "Glad it just ain't me".

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Labour's fortunes: the meltdown continues...

They come not as single spies... Following hot on the heels of local election results that have exhausted most of the euphemisms and synonyms that bloggers and journalists routinely use to describe "complete fucking disaster", early accident reports are alerting us to another car crash developing north of the border.

This has to do with our Wendy's Damascene conversion to the joys of referendums - especially ones that have to do with the future of the Union.

Hitherto, her approach to such constitutional frivolities might have been described as less than enthusiastic - a little frosty, even.

I've been enormously impressed with her transformation because now she is positively hot for the idea. So hot, she is unprepared to wait the two years that the SNP have given - she wants one now. "Come ahead if you think you're hard enough", she screamed, tanked up on Buckfast. "I'll have the lot of you SNP bastards, so I will." She later added that if they tried to get wide, her pal Gordon would kick fuck out of the lot of them.

Ok, what she really said was, "Bring it on" and that she'd spoken to Gordon Brown who supported her call for a referendum but if you go with the metaphor, it'll be easier to catch the music of what happened here. By most accounts the Labour party in Scotland's foreknowledge of this announcement has been estimated to have been in the region of slightly less than fuck all. It also turns out that Gordon isn't entirely sure what the fuck is going on either and also that he isn't quite sure what to do about it - so no change there.

Since their incompetence has been already, and is now more than ever, having implications for the future of the Union (you know, like starting a game - and then proceeding to kick the ball directly to Alex Salmond's feet), the case for their removal is as overwhelming as it is urgent.

In this I'd have to dissent from the 'Labour has been hollowed-out by the Blairites' thesis such as you'll find expounded here and here. We're always being told that parties are collapsing, their grassroots withering on the vine. We were told this about the Tory party under Hague and IDS. Like the Church of England and the monarchy, it was suggested that we couldn't assume that the zeitgeist would retain their services indefinitely.

Philosophically true, I'd agree - but it seems a little arrogant in retrospect given the state of play now. The withering of the grassroots is a phenomenon that has afflicted political parties across Europe and certainly in Britain. But so what if parties are 'hollowed-out'? They are still going to compete in elections and someone has to win. Those whose prognosis relies on an analysis of the state the parties are in make some acute observations - but they understate the importance of leadership. For those of us who are sympathetic to Labour, ours is a disaster that simply can't be dismissed as a function of a palsied grassroots. Over and above the general malaise in party politics, Gordon Brown and Wendy Alexander are singularly unsuited to the roles they find themselves in and should go as soon as possible. It could be, and has been, objected that this won't transform the party's prospects. This is probably true - but I'm arguing that they should go as a matter of principle. The reasons for Brown staying on in particular look to me desperate and threadbare - his supposed merits, I can't discern. Here's my objections, in no particular order - and no doubt making no particular sense - to Gordon Brown's leadership:

1) All these mental commentators keep writing this crap about Gordon needing to come out, be true to himself, get in touch with his inner-socialist etc. Leaving aside the question as to whether this would be desirable, surely it's obvious by now that this re-birth isn't going to happen? And one of the reasons this isn't going to happen is this...

2) Gordon Brown can't make decisions. This is something of a drawback for any Prime Minister, I'd have thought. This is no media invention - it's an observable character trait. He made one good decision - making the Bank of England independent. He had years to prepare for this. Since then, what? He couldn't decide whether to knife Blair when he was weak in the aftermath of Iraq. Then, having got the job he always wanted, he couldn't decide whether to have another election or not. Then in the face of belated opposition from his own party, he can't quite decide whether his decision to make our tax system more regressive than it already is was the thing to do after all. Does he favour a referendum on Scotland's future? Why expect clarity from someone who can't quite make make up his mind on the whole handling Olympic torches thing?

3) Guardianistas find in him qualities that I simply don't recognise as such. Like the whole 'Son o' the Manse' thing. Could somebody please explain why this is supposed to be a good thing? I hate the Church of Scotland and I hate Calvinism - why am I being invited to find a Prime Minister that comes with these influences desirable? Because I really don't. Qualification: one of the good things about the Calvinist tradition is a commitment to equality and democracy. Which brings me to the last point...

4) Gordon, as his fiscal policy demonstrates, doesn't do equality. And his elevation to party leader didn't exactly scream democracy either. Neither did Wendy's. Two completely useless leaders - both elected unopposed. This is no coincidence and I don't quite see what is supposed to be 'Blairite' or 'New Labour' about this dismal state of affairs because it is part of a complacent Labour tradition where the selectorate is the electorate. There is nothing new about this - it is a tradition that Scotland has practiced for decades. While no doubt some sociologist or social historian would argue this has some benefits, it would be difficult to maintain that the promotion of talent could be counted as one of them.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In praise of truants

From the Torygraph again, informing us that truancy is at a 12 month high:
"Almost 350,000 children missed a day of school every week last term as absence rates soared to a 12 month high, according to official figures."
To which you think, "Is that all?"

Well, you should have.

Anyway, the government didn't have anything plausible to say on the subject:
"Ministers blamed the rise on a sharp increase in childhood illness, including cases of the winter vomiting bug norovirus among primary school children.

They also said more parents had taken pupils out of school for cheap term-time holidays."
Yes, very likely - that'll be it. By the way, I'm strongly in favour of parents taking their children on holiday during term-time, especially if said children - through no fault of their own - happen to be complete arseholes. Is your child an arsehole? Please take him/her on holiday - regularly and for long periods.

Un-named 'teachers', on the other hand, had something resembling a sensible answer...
"But teachers said pupils were becoming fed-up with school..."
'Cos school sucks. Like, totally. Especially when the weather's nice... Then they spoiled it by being silly.
"...and warned they needed more freedom to make lessons interesting."
No, no, no - it's in the Rules: you are not there to entertain them - still less to delude yourself that you can make your lesson more compelling than anything else that might distract them. Because apart from anything else, some of them are having sex. A gruesome thought, I'd agree - but I'm afraid it's true. How exciting would a lesson on how fucked-up the Balkans were at the turn of the century have to be to compete with this? It's beyond my competence, certainly.

Anyway, bit distracted from the point, which is that truants have a couple of qualities that are rarely recognised:

1) Often there's a certain degree of enterprise involved here. True story: pupil tells us that he was going to another school. We took this as a likely explanation as to why he hadn't been in class for a month. As it turned out, we were reliably informed, he hadn't gone to another school at all. Instead he'd bought a monthly cinema ticket and was going to the pictures every day. Say what you like about the importance of an education - it's difficult not to admire such a serious commitment to film-going.

2) It tends to be some of the ones that actually show up that cause most of the problems. Truants: people who hate school and have the grace not to turn up.

3) They serve as a sort of indicator. It's not quite comparable because school's already supposed to be compulsory but it's one of the reasons why making voting compulsory would be such a bad idea: elections are difficult enough to interpret without removing that essential indicator of the health of any system - a record of those who are either unwilling or unable to participate in its present form. Introducing or re-enforcing compulsion would be a way of avoiding the question as to whether it might be an idea to adapt the system instead.

2m people download new Coldplay single

I was going to argue that this disproved the wisdom of crowds thing - but it turns out that the single was, in fact, free.

Even so, I feel there's little excuse for this sort of behaviour - still less for this:
"Some music fans paid up to £100 to download In Rainbows, the band’s seventh studio album, despite it being offered for nothing."
I don't even recognise my own species when I read stuff like that.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

On Gordon Brown and the 'Midas touch'

This is really very good indeed - and highlights an important reason why those who believe that Gordon Brown's premiership can yet be salvaged and turned into a success are wrong:
"This myth seems to me to have some interesting parallels with Gordon Brown’s premiership. By becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown achieved his heart’s desire, and everything went really well at first. He stepped out of Tony Blair’s shadow and became number one. Yet now everything is going wrong, and Gordon Brown does not look like he enjoys being a head of government. He does not like going abroad, or PMQs, or defending his subordinates when things go wrong. He seems as if he would be much happier in another role, and I suspect he would trade it all in for an opportunity to become chancellor again; power without the limelight. He has realised that his ‘heart’s desire’ is not that at all: he has the Midas touch."
It's an obvious observation yet so few people make it and still less understand its significance. Gordon Brown reminds me of some teachers I know, of me in previous incarnations: most people don't like their jobs but he fucking hates his. The sense of unease he feels positively exudes from the centre of his being and touches everything he says and everything he does. This is what I think people sense from him and something I think people could be forgiven for not noticing before he became Prime Minister. Who would have thought he'd dislike the job he'd always wanted this much? People who dislike their jobs to this extent are surely unlikely to be successful in them?

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