Monday, December 29, 2008

Against pontificating priests

I'm generally uninterested in the theological opinions of politicians and in the political opinions of theologians because apart from a general view on my part that religion and the state should be kept separate - both of these are generally characterised by an ignorance of the matters on which they speak.

But what with the Anglican church being our oldest nationalised industry, I suppose a certain overlap is inevitable. In these circumstances, I know who's opinion I'd rather hear. Gordon Brown knows more about their subject than these pontificating priests know about his. You'd think they might recognise this and hold their counsel but - and I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing this - Christians, by and large, don't do humility anymore.

Clerics in Germany, or one of them at least, blamed the banks - or one of them at least. Ours, on the other hand, blamed individuals and by extension the government for failing to restrain the greedy plebs:
"The Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, the Church's Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, said he feared Britain would simply return to a "financial system based on indebtedness" after the current crisis.

"The government isn't telling people who are already deep in debt to stop overextending themselves, but instead is urging us to spend more," he said.

"That is morally suspect and morally feeble. It is unfair and irresponsible of the government to put pressure on the public to spend in order to revive the economy.""
A financial system based on indebtedness, eh? How does he think banks make their money? And how does he think most of us who don't get houses with our jobs manage to get a roof over our heads, if not by borrowing? It should go without saying that this particular cleric has yet to graduate to the kindergarten of economic history.

They could, I suppose, have made more circumscribed criticism of the government - because for this there is, I would concede, plenty of scope. But there's one reason why they couldn't; it would deprive them of the room they need for moral posturing - which is, after all, their stock in trade. And there's anther reason why they shouldn't; it would be inappropriate, taking sides in party politics. But they've already done this...
"The Rt Rev Graham Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, said: "I agree with the Conservatives that the breakdown of the family is a crucial element in the difficulties of our present society."
It's perhaps unfair to suggest that the partisan comments of the Rev Dow are representative of all of our seasonal preaching pontiffs but in general I really have to laugh when people try and suggest that the church ever attacks the government from the left. They attack this government, any government, from the standpoint of the past - something that should be remembered by anyone finding anything 'progressive' about the pronouncements of pontificating priests.

Update: Seems the Rev Dow has form. From Don in the comments I learn he's not merely a meddling reactionary - but a bat-shit crazy meddling reactionary. He thinks Gordon Brown's government is the incarnation of the anti-Christ and that floods are a judgment from God for tolerating homosexuals.

The latter view is surprisingly popular amongst fundamentalists clerics of all hues but it doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, does it? Because if that were the case, Brighton would be like Atlantis by now.*

*Stolen from here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Enough of this shit...

For 2008.

Merry Christmas and aura best for the New Year when it comes. x

Friday, December 19, 2008

Should have been from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious...

Hats. I don't do hats. As well as reducing my face to imbecility, they get goddam itchy after a while - so I don't wear 'em.

But don't dare complain of being cold if you don't have a woolly bunnet on because you always get someone saying, "Well, you should wear a hat - don't you know you lose 40% of your body heat through your head?"

I've always though this was crap - and I never understood why people believed this counterintuitive nonsense.

Today I stand hatless and vindicated by science.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Man who brought bomb terror to Glasgow faces 32 years in jail

From the Scotsman:
"AN NHS doctor who planned to murder and maim hundreds of people in terrorist attacks in Glasgow and London will serve at least 32 years in prison.

Dr Bilal Abdulla showed no emotion as Mr Justice Mackay branded him a "religious extremist and bigot" who held the most "perverted" and "distorted" Islamist views."
He could have also mentioned that this lot weren't very bright - attempting to carry out a terrorist attack in the one city where you can count on someone to punch a burning man. They're rubbish, aren't they? Trying to bring religious hatred to the West of Scotland? They're about four hundred years too late. And they don't even have a football team or anything.

None of that was mine - stole it from Frankie Boyle. Can't find the original clip so here's another one.

Filed under: Weegies, ya bass.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nanny state annoyances

Chris has an interesting post speculating whether the propensity of governments to indulge in the nannying we've all got used to has anything to do with prosperity.

The way people go on now, sometimes I wonder how me and my sister survived the 1970s, what with us seatbeltless, upside down in the back of the car with my dad tearing down the motorway smoking a fag. And our diet would be considered an abomination today. Yet strangely, we've both survived. I feel I'm living on borrowed time, myself. My sister doesn't - she's much healthier than me.

One of the points of the post is that the governments of the 1970s didn't have time to bother about this shit - they had stagflation and industrial unrest to occupy them. We might be back to this sort of thing now - but the nannying is left ratcheted up, as it were. All of which brings me to today's petty irritation...

I bought my first packet of fags with the new pictorial health warnings on them. They're just brilliant, aren't they? Mine warned that,
"Smoking can damage the sperm and decreases fertility."
Some of the words are in red just in case you missed the point. Hmph! Decreases - but clearly doesn't eliminate, I think you'll find. I have a child to prove it. Whaddaya mean, he might not be mine? He looks like me and everything - only smaller.

Anyway, the picture on the fag packet isn't one of a man looking forlorn in a playpark because he has no children of his own to drive him mental. No - it's of sperm under a microscope. And who exactly the fuck is this picture for, eh? Damn it all, I know what sperm under the microscope looks like! Not that I have examined my own in this way, you understand - that would be weird.

Here's another one - not from this country but it catches the flavour.

I mean, really! I already know what a goddam baby looks like (see above). Anyway, I've had the coil fitted recently so I'm pretty sure I'm not pregnant.

The campaign is clearly directed at smokers who don't know what stuff looks like. But how many of these are there really? I'm thinking they haven't thought this one through.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Three completely unrelated things

Embarrassing blogging

Yvette Cooper has an Msc in Economics.

Ian Dale doesn't have one of these but he does have a blog. He has also read 'The Laws of Economics'. We know this because he says, "Now, call me old fashioned but last time I looked at the laws of economics..."

It's a big book he has at home.

Survey the damage here and the doing he gets here.

I'm thinking our slogan for the next election should go something like: Vote Labour - the Tories know even less about economics than us.

Hardly a ringing endorsement, I'd agree - but it would be a refreshing change from all that messianic stuff Blair came out with, don'tcha think?

Bloody education

This article was actually emailed to me. It's not all crap but it's pretty much belongs in the usual rightwing denial school of educational thought. You know the sort of thing, incentives, paid by results, doesn't matter if you go to school dodging hails of bullets, what matters is a Good Teacher blah.

Anyway, I'll link some moderately sensible commentary on it because you certainly aren't going to get any from me. Instead there was a couple of things that caught my eye - one from the article itself that I missed the first time I read it...
"Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree—and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before..."
When you read stuff like that, you assume - or hope - that people simply don't mean what they say. I mean, do we really have to go through the experience of someone with a pulse and a college degree taking their first class stark naked with a chainsaw before people realise sometimes it might be a tad late for these 'apprentices' to be judged after they've started their jobs?

The other was from the comments in the post linked above:
"The Object of Education is to better yourself. It is a Competition as well as a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from being the best. A good teacher in any field Leads. and sets the agenda,places benchmarks for advancement, there does seem to be parallels between a good academic, and a quarterback as well as a Drill instructor."
The author of this comment had the 'warm fuzzy feeling' described to him, one assumes? Either that or he went to a really shit school with Bad Teachers in it.

Modern Dentistry

I'm unhappy with it. People tell me, "It's amazing what they can do nowadays." They can do a lot more, I agree - but this has led them, in my case anyway, to overestimate their powers.

Root canal, anti-biotics, more root canal, followed by more anti-biotics. Then cut gum open and set about with wire-brush and Dettol, more fucking anti-biotics. I'm no expert but isn't taking the damn thing out a possible solution here? But that's passé, apparently.

Just because it's at the front they avoid it, presumably for aesthetic reasons. Yeah, I really look gorgeous now, don't I - with the swollen face and the haunted look of a Glaswegian deprived of drink? Whereas with the space I could get a tattoo, grow some stubble and go for the whole pirate look. Although knowing my luck, the tattoo would get all scabby and infected and I'd have to get my arm amputated...

Music commentary - FAIL!

Paulie's music commentary - fairly eccentric at the best of times - has taken a bizarre new twist as he tries to declare the End of Guitar History. Actually it ended some time ago, according to him:
"For over fifty years, all electric rock guitar..."
Electric rock guitar: should never be confused with acoustic rock guitar...
"...has featured an attempt to improve upon Carl Perkins' Rockabilly twang."
This I did not know. I somehow doubt I'm alone here. And...
"In over fifty years, no-one has succeeded."

The lesson is as follows: anyone who's ever tried to play 'electric rock guitar' and disses Jimi shouldn't be allowed to own one, in my view.

Anyway, here's the great man with some 'acoustic rock guitar'.

Christmas traditions

Apart from the usual, that is - we've had the annual "council bans Christmas" story.

And then there's Christopher Hitchens in a column he presumably gets paid for telling us he doesn't like Christmas...
"The core objection, which I restate every December at about this time..."
" that for almost a whole month, the United States—a country constitutionally based on a separation between church and state—turns itself into the cultural and commercial equivalent of a one-party state."
Does it - does it really? I'd never thought about it that way before. Actually I did - the last time you came out with this line. And the time before that. Filed that thought under 'Fucking Stupid and Boring' every time.

Thing is, like a lot of people I'm not wild about Christmas either. Apart from anything else, for those of us who have lived long enough to fuck up several significant relationships, it's a time of year that's full of ghosts. But, Mr Hitchens, the columns? Not. Fucking. Helping. For example:
"It becomes more than usually odious to switch on the radio and the television, because certain officially determined "themes" have been programmed into the system. Most objectionable of all, the fanatics force your children to observe the Dear Leader's birthday, and so (this being the especial hallmark of the totalitarian state) you cannot bar your own private door to the hectoring, incessant noise, but must have it literally brought home to you by your offspring."
Oh fuck off! Honestly!

Christopher Hitchens: Go on - have a fag and gie yersel peace, ya miserable git.

Update: Something from Norm that I was too grumpy to produce at the time - a more measured response. I'm still too grumpy. Here's Hitchens in 2005. I mean, why doesn't he just change the date, re-post and be done with it? I don't think anyone would notice because it's the same old turkey re-heated. North Korea - check. Dear Leader - check. Compulsory enjoyment - check. He doesn't even have the excuse of having never visited an actual one-party state! Enough of this crud. Oliver Cromwell indeed! Bit louche for a puritan, aren't we?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On direct action

I've read with interest what others have had to say about the Plane Stupid protestors who occupied Stanstead Airport. Via Chris, I found a handy summary here. For what it's worth, the sentiments one finds here dovetail rather neatly with my own prejudices. I don't care if they're right - I can't stand these posh sanctimonious eco-protestors.

But it got me thinking about direct action in general - a problem that swirls around in my mind from time to time. It isn't an easy problem to resolve because only Germans circa 1939-1945 ever thought obedience to the law should stand at the apex of a man's moral obligations. Unless you're big on state-worship, it is surely uncontroversial to insist that 'direct action' is at least on some occasions justifiable?

But my feeling is in general that the modern liberal or socialist rather understates the problems thrown up by this. Part of the reason is, I think, historic examples of direct action have left the history books and entered into the world of mythology. In this country, I'm thinking mainly of the way the Suffragettes' campaign of violence has been understood. Here we have a seemingly obvious case for direct action that fulfills two of the criteria that are conventionally understood as justifying it: a) a just cause - in this case the inclusion of women in the franchise, and b) an issue that the conventional party system couldn't cope with because there was no party championing their cause.

My complaint about this interpretation of history has nothing to do with the justice of their cause. Rather, like a number of people who have looked beyond the mythology at the actual history, I question the efficacy of their campaign. Like a number of of people who have examined the actual historical record, I would suggest that what proved decisive in winning women the vote was the Suffragettes' participation in the war effort - something the majority agreed necessitated putting the direct action campaign on hold.

The other thing that strikes one about the Suffragettes' campaign is that while it was shocking at the time - and it should be understood that many of their actions lost them the sympathy they'd won during their treatment in prison under that lovely Liberal government - it seems in retrospect rather mild by modern standards. For what is terrorism but a form of direct action? Which brings me to my little list of problems that the average liberal or socialist tends not to take account of when discussing this problem:

1) The problem of proportion. What level of direct action is justified? Who decides? The obvious answer here would be the government - but direct action by definition is a resort to extra-legal means. Surely even if people haven't bothered to acquaint themselves with the great Thomas Hobbes, even a rudimentary understanding of human history would inform someone that we might have something of a problem of acceleration here. Take this example from the ambivalent Neil D at HP:
"I wondered if a campaign of direct action might be in order.

The night-time slashing of car tyres, the pulling down of Christmas lights, the smashing of garden heaters, and the decapitation of the shining angel might make people think about their transport choices and use of energy. Surely such direct action is warranted given the seriousness of the situation?

Or perhaps it might make me look like a self-righteous twat with no respect for others, or the law, and fatally undermine my cause?"
For me he isn't asking the most pressing question that he should consider, which is: what does he think I'm going to do to him if I catch him slashing my tyres? By the time I'm finished with him, I suppose he could call the police - but there's two problems: one is it is difficult to see what grounds on which he could make a complaint; the other is he would be unlikely to be satisfied with any police response - he's going to want revenge. You see the problem? If you don't then you're just too damn liberal for the real world.

2) What cause justifies direct action? I'm afraid there simply isn't that many that fall into the 'preventing genocide' category. The case that prompted this post and the responses illustrate the problem here. For example, outside of the Troubles, the most prolific terrorist outfit in the UK is not Al-Qaeda or any of its imitators - it has been the ALF. They are so serious about animal rights, they reckon it's ok to harm human mammals to vindicate these rights. My own view is that they are complete fucknuts who have taken liberal self-loathing to its logical conclusion and have managed to feel guilty about being at the top of the food chain. The difficulty here is not just one of what cause but who pursues it? This leads me to my last point:

3) This is for me the most obvious point - but it's one that is invariably missed by the pro-direct action lobby. Isn't it something of a luxury to cheer on the eco-protestors? We can do so because they are armed only with their invulnerable sense of righteousness and perhaps a bag of museli. I appreciate they've caused disruption in this case but in general a lack of power is their defining characteristic. This is why we can afford to indulge them. But what if the group of protesters are in possession of something more substantial? There is one group in societies throughout human history who have at various times and in various places been so convinced of the rightness of their cause, they have felt compelled to dispense with conventional political mechanisms and act directly to address the moral urgency of the situation. This group is, of course, the army.

I didn't intend this to turn out to be quite so anti-direct action - but what motivated it is much of the comment that treats it as if it were what the Americans like to call a 'no-brainer'. This attitude strikes me as being long on moral certainty and short on history - as well as requiring a rather otherworldly unfamiliarity with the human condition.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Still more from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious

I've asked before on this space how, exactly, do you get a job doing this sort of research? Yet answers there are none. Can I impress on y'all that this isn't a rhetorical question? Seriously, I'd really like to know: how do you get a job doing research that comes to conclusions that everyone knew already anyway?
"An Australian study into the sexual history of 185 students at the University of Sydney found male science "nerds" were the least likely to have had sexual intercourse."
Filed under: No Shit, Sherlock.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Further tales from the trenches

Apologies for light posting. Been busy with various shit - not least earning a crust touring some of Glasgow's educational establishments. I was looking at a list of Glasgow's secondary schools and realised that out of twenty-nine, I've taught in seventeen of them. Now, while it is a very strong field in which to compete, I reckon I've stumbled across the most bat-shit crazy institution this city has to offer. If you can read this, presumably you went to school - with desks, pupils, teachers, shit like that. Let me assure you that here the similarity with the institution you attended and this one ends.

Consider the following facts:

1) It has a role of around three-hundred and fifty. This would be a function of the information plus voting with feet phenomenon. Those with the information vote with their feet. The rest are too drunk to notice what's going on.

2) The school has completely given up the pretence of offering a full curriculum and now only insists on English and Maths as core subjects. The rest of the timetable is taken up with what they like to call 'Future skills'. It includes subjects like hairdressing. I wouldn't know but one would presume that this involves giving the students access to scissors. I have to say, from what I've seen of the behaviour in this 'school', this strikes me as a somewhat reckless policy.

One wonders what sort of fucked-up future the managers of this school have imagined the skills they are learning here would be useful for. If they have in mind a sort of post-nuclear junior Mad Max situation where the world is ruled by gangs of feral youths, then I'd agree the skills they are learning here would stand them in good stead. If, however, they have in mind technical skills that might help them in any imaginable future labour market, I'd say that any child that attends this school is comprehensively fucked.

Think dystopian science-fiction - but dispense with the obvious Orwell and Huxley. Both of them, in very different ways, imagined highly ordered societies. How wrong they both were. Think instead of the Lord of the Flies on crack and then maybe you'll catch a flavour of what's going on in the second city of the Empire.

All of this got me to thinking about a couple of educational myths that do the rounds in what you read from what journalists and especially bloggers have to say about education:

One has to do with the ludicrous idea that the success or otherwise of an educational institution has to do with the quality of the teaching staff. This is an idea proposed by the majority who have absolutely no idea how bad bad can get in our nation's schools. I'll draw this analogy: George Harrison once commented at the height of Beetlemania how he didn't even bother to tune his guitar because the hysteria that greeted their shows meant that it couldn't be heard anyway. Teaching skills are a bit like this. Doesn't matter how much you prepare your lessons or 'hone' your skills - if you work in an environment like this, they'll never get used.

The other has to do with the strength of teaching unions. There are some - even those within our profession - who claim they are too strong. This is simply a function of ignorance - it comes from those who think they've taught in rough schools but really have no experience of the Joseph Conrad territory within which it is possible to travel in this profession. That said unions haven't insisted that their members down tools and walk out over the educational catastrophe that is going on in our inner-cities is a mark of their quintessential weakness. Anyone who argues otherwise simply doesn't know what they're talking about.

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