Mar 122009

The other night, after finishing my umpteenth reading of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, the creative urge struck. Just as the anti-hero is a non-traditional, pragmatic protagonist, I thought it might be fun to write something about an anti-Faust: a non-traditional, pragmatic protagonist who sells his soul to the devil. I produced a couple of introductory paragraphs, which I reread earlier this evening, before (a) I ran out of steam, and (b) thinking about Led Zeppelin distracted me.

One marathon job-application-session and three glasses of wine later, I’m fascinated by the idea again. So I’ve given the burblings their own page on ye olde blog. Hurrah!

On cops with convictions

 indolence  Comments Off on On cops with convictions
Mar 112009

The Donatists were an early heterodox Christian sect whose primary heretical view referred itself to the nature of the sacraments:

The Donatists refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution. Many church leaders had gone so far as to turn Christians over to Roman authorities and had handed over sacred religious texts to authorities to be publicly burned. These people were called traditors (“people who had handed over”). These traditors had returned to positions of authority under Constantine I, and the Donatists proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests and bishops were invalid.

The second question was the validity of sacraments confected by priests and bishops who had been apostates under the persecution. The Donatists held that all such sacraments were invalid: by their sinful act, such clerics had rendered themselves incapable of celebrating valid sacraments. This is known as: ex opere operantis — Latin for from the work of the one doing the working, that is, that the validity of the sacrament depends upon the worthiness and holiness of the minister confecting it.

The prevailing orthodoxy, then as now, was that the validity of the sacraments was ex opere operato – that is to say, the sinfulness, guilt, or otherwise questionable behaviour of the officiant had no relation to the effectiveness of the sacrament. Instead, the grace conferred proceeded entirely from the intention of the officiant and penitent, as well as, of course, from God, whose instrument the officiant was.

Ex opere operato – if it’s good enough for the Christians, it’s probably good enough for the cops.

Mar 102009

Because I cannot be arsed to read the news while there is work to be done, I find that a lot of what alerts my ‘blog-post dammit’ sensors comes from other blogs, and today is no exception. By David Davis (no, not that one) at the Libertarian Alliance, I was entirely brought up short by a singular piece of commentary:

And, to round off, what a load of feminazi crap from Rowenna Davis at the Grauniad, about the “bloke-o-sphere.” Thanks to “And there was me thinking” for hat-tipping me off to this fem***z* august woman journalist. Perhaps it’s that males are just more intellectually and literarily creative? We can’t fabricate babies, you lot have to do that for us (and yourselves, don’t forget that, ever): so we write more, and harder, and faster, and with more exquisitely crafted anger feeling instead. The pen is mightier than the p**** I guess.

Many eons ago (a couple of years in reality), I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the wonders of University Challenge, that exquisitely British quiz programme hosted by the even-more-exquisite Jeremy Paxman. During the course of several rounds of filming and, later, numerous Monday evenings spent shouting trivia at the television set in tandem with some of the brightest young minds in the country (‘Wadham-Harris!’), it became apparent to me that females made up rather less than 50% of the contestant pool. On our own team (of which I was not a member, lest you accuse me of delusions of grandeur), there was one female, who answered precisely two starters-for-ten in the entire course of the team’s progress. I remember asking my then-boyfriend, the captain of our team, why women were so under-represented in the competition.

To give him his due, he considered the question carefully rather than, a la David Davis, leaping to the defence with accusations of feminazism. Eventually, he said something along the lines of: ‘To be successful on University Challenge, one has to be aggressive and take risks. If you don’t know the answer, you have to come up with a plausible guess and run with it. Those tend to be male traits, I suppose.’

Much later, or perhaps it was around the same time, I asked him why it is that females, on average, perform much better in school, but males perform better at university. His response was similar: ‘When you think about the university examination system, you know that most of it consists of writing rather long essays in answer to rather vague questions. What achieves good marks doesn’t seem to be simple repetition of facts. Instead, errors of fact are overlooked if an answer is bold enough or has enough flair. Men, I suppose, tend to be rather bolder and more given to flashes of insight.’

My own experience as a teacher would seem to support his conclusions. When I taught history in the US (in a mixed school), my best students were male. Even when they misreported the circumstances of historical events, their essays often displayed a deeper understanding of the material and a more rigorous level of analysis than those of the females.

What does this mean for women in the blogosphere, then?

A quick survey of my own blogroll (which is rather more extensive than what you will find in the right-hand sidebar), reveals that there are two women on it: one, Megan McArdle, is an MBA who writes for the Atlantic, and the other is a feminist. This is not to say that I’m not aware of other female bloggers: David Davis tips his hat to one, Dennis often features another, and who hasn’t heard of the lovely Trixy? And yet those five women represent the sum total of my conversance with the female side of the interweb-commentariat. Of the two on my blogroll, I read Megan McArdle to keep up with the American libertarian world, and I read the feminist because she is angry and sweary and uses neologisms like ’empornulate.’

Rowenna Davis (no relation to David) says:

Second, it’s worrying because – like any forum – virtual spaces develop institutional cultures over time. The House of Commons building might be gender neutral, but fill its chambers with mainly men for hundreds of years and sexism begins to looks like part of the furniture. So too with cyberspace. Unlike parliament, the internet was not made exclusively for men, but mainstream political blogs are starting to become defined as such.

In such a context, it’s hard to stay true to yourself online. When editing LabourList, I felt the need to turn up the aggression, to be more cutting than I would like to be and less willing to compromise. Online, I felt a similar pressure that Thatcher may have felt in the Commons – the need to compensate for my femininity in a world dominated by aggressive masculinity.

Her choice of the words ‘aggression’ and ‘aggressive’ certainly hearkens back to my ex’s remarks and suggests that the blogosphere, like University Challenge and university exams, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice.

Rowenna Davis goes on:

But facing that world alongside other female bloggers gave me hope. I was lucky enough to have commentators like Sadie Smith tweeting alongside me, and blog-readers like Grace Fletcher-Hackwood questioning the male-dominated blogroll. While editing, I saw first-hand that – given a critical mass – the internet can work for women as well as against them.

But changing the content for one day is not enough. If women don’t keep up a lively presence online, the “blokeosphere” will rule. Ultimately, the internet is what we make it. This poses a challenge to mainstream political blogs – who have a responsibility to make space for female voices – and to women, who have a duty to fill them.

It’s rather heartening to know that ‘mainstream’ political blogs, of which I read precisely none according to what this woman’s definition probably is, suffer the same dearth of oestrogen as the libertarian blogs I frequent. Whilst I don’t support the idea that any internet community has ‘a responsibility to make space for female voices,’ I do agree that women, if they want their voices heard, need to enter the space and start making waves.

The delightful Tim Worstall mentioned a related problem recently when he ridiculed Mary Honeyball MEP for contradicting her own argument about gender quotas, and let’s be fair, the woman is a stupid ass:

It took all-women shortlists to raise the number of Labour women MPs to 27% of the parliamentary Labour party. Compare this with the Tories – who, incidentally, oppose quotas – of whom only 9% are female. Quotas do work, and I do not believe we will get significantly more women elected representatives without them.

Only 26% of MPs are female, meaning that Westminster does not have enough women for them to form a critical mass – estimated to be around 30% – where they can bring about changes.

Only by getting more women into parliament will some of the structural barriers that prevent more women from being elected be removed. Female MPs are role models who raise women’s and girls’ aspirations. Quotas are a short-term measure that will ensure long lasting democracy and equal representation.

Although women comprise, as is often cited, half of the population, women do not comprise half the population’s representatives. I don’t want to get into the issue of quotas, which are a silly idea in any situation (vide Tim, supra) and already discredited more than ably over at Musings on Liberty, but it’s interesting to see how Honeyball attacks democracy in the name of…democracy. Democracy is not only choosing for whom one wishes to vote, but choosing whether or not one wishes to stand for office. When more men than women wish to stand, and more people prefer to vote for men over women, that is democracy, however much it might offend the sensibilities of equality-seekers.

And why do we have this confluence of more men running and more people voting for men? Perhaps it is because politics, like University Challenge, university exams, and the blogosphere, is a realm in which success is achieved by having the loudest, most insistent, most incisive voice. If a majority of men and women believe that women possess those traits in insufficient quantities, then women will neither stand for office nor receive votes.

The question, is seems to me, is: why are aggression and flair considered primarily masculine, rather than feminine, traits? We all know women who possess them, and we all know men who don’t. Are women employing these characteristics in other spheres of their lives? Is David Davis right in suggesting that women divert their strenuous efforts into the creation of babies?

I don’t know the answer. I know that I am not a person who is much given to flair. I am rarely loud. I do not craft my anger into exquisite, invective-filled blog posts, and other people’s pens are indeed mightier, as David Davis says, than my pussy. I am not aggressive. So maybe this blog is doomed to fail, I will never have a career in politics, and Gail Trimble truly is the man.

What I do know, however, is that whinging on about what women are entitled to, whether it be space in the great political debate, seats in Parliament, or exams tailored to fit their character traits, is a counter-productive waste of time. Women are entitled to be treated as human beings, with all attendant rights and liberties. No more, no less. And the more we focus on dragging down men to pull ourselves up, the more harm we do to our primary, legitimate, and above all imperative goal.

Mar 092009

Over the weekend, someone called Don Paskini decided to dip his big toe into the libertarian pool and see what all the fuss was about.

After a rather perfunctory foray into some libertarian blogs on Sunday afternoon, he discovered:

So I didn’t manage to bond with the Libertarians over the police database of dissident protesters. But I did learn about the merits of Tsarist Russia; that the government shouldn’t help women who are losing their jobs; that it’s wrong to pay people £7/hour or more if they live in Glasgow and work for the council; about how privatisation can create a market in whether our children get indoctrinated by the gays and about the Nazi ownership of our children by the state.

Not to mention that next time someone asks me for my opinion on a really, really stupid idea, I now know that a polite way to reply is to say that it sounds ‘impeccably liberal’.

But something still puzzled me. Why would a group of people who want another way forward for the country, who are extremely ANGRY and who fantasise about stringing up our elected leaders from lamp posts not be worried about the existence of a database which the state can use to monitor dissenters?

And then I thought about it from another perspective, and all became clear. Pity the poor Police Surveillance Officer, monitoring this drivel and having to decide what kind of security risk they might be. I suspect they would conclude two things:

1. Their policy aims seem to revolve exclusively around giving more to those who already have a lot of money and power, so probably not one to worry about too much.

2. And anyway, as credible and organised threats to the existing order go, they make the Socialist Workers Party look like the Bolsheviks.

I was going to take the piss, but one of the commenters appears to have got in his apologia first:

You have misrepresented the arguments on each of these sites in turn.

As for opposing the ‘dissident database’, when the time comes, you will find these chaps on the barricades. They don’t have to prove their credentials to you.

Thank you, Jonathan Miller, whoever you are.

In conclusion, I wish to point out that Don decided to test the waters because:

I took it and discovered that I was 40% liberal and 60% illiberal. It said: “Thank you for taking our test. But we think you may be more interested in an illiberal, statist party like the Labour Party or Conservative Party. If you wish to advertise your illiberal values, please find your blog badge below.”

It’s a brave political strategy for a fledgling party – “thank you for expressing an interest in our party, however you might be more interested in these other political parties.”

But I was not deterred and decided that I was going to build on the 40% that I had in common with the Libertarian Party. So I thought I’d pick an issue where I knew we would agree, and find out what leading Libertarians had written about it.

That issue, as it happens, was state surveillance and databases, based on an article from the Guardian about police records of protesters and campaigners. Don oh-so-astutely assumed that because the issue wasn’t the top post on the libertarian blogs during his arbitrary five-minute reccie, neither Samizdata nor the Devil’s Kitchen nor Old Holborn nor Bishop Hill nor the Libertarian Alliance are concerned about surveillance and databases.

Don, allow me to correct your misapprehension.

[H/T DaveA.]

Mar 082009

Dennis, whilst ducking for metaphorical cover, accuses me in the comments of poor showing lately, and I must admit this is true. A backlog of tedious marking sapped most of my energy this week (although I did make a move into the GTD realm, which was oddly satisfying), the last of which was expended at a school charity event in which I competed for the three-legged race title with Mr Smug Git. (Yes, we won.)

As for the weekend, most of things that would have gotten my goat have been rather more ably ranted about by others, whose rage acts as a sort of catharsis, after the reading of which I feel like a boat that has passed through the rapids and now drifts lazily through shallow eddies: calm and purged of the evil humours, the recipient of successful emotional phlebotomy.

David Davis (no, not that one) at the Libertarian Alliance has flagged up a trio of AQA science GCSE papers, the questions on which make even me, with my liberal-arts mind, feel like a scientific genius. With my superior knowledge of the ins and outs of the public exam system in this day and age, I can reveal that after 12 March, the January 2009 papers will be available on the interwebs. I was fortunate enough to invigilate one of the biology papers, and thus I can provide a sneak preview of one or two of the questions therein:

Paper 1, Question 5 – Explain how agricultural activities are contributing to global warming.

Paper 2, Question 4 – Importing tomatoes may be more damaging to the environment than consuming tomatoes grown in Britain. Explain why.

I have it on good authority that even science teachers think this stuff is bollocks.

Next, Vindico has written an excellent post about Jade Goody as a bulwark against Marxism. She is indeed someone who has improved her circumstances in life, and without hypocrisy or the wibble that comes with following the state-prescribed Route Out of Poverty. Jade Goody is unapologetic and unashamed, and when people call her trashy, ugly, or unpleasant, a red haze of anger descends over my eyes. She is a human being – and no worse than most – and my regard for her includes empathetic horror, eye-watering pity, and the heart-wrenching fellow-feeling for a woman exactly my own age who is facing imminent non-existence. I cannot imagine anything worse, and I wouldn’t wish such an end on my worst enemy, let alone on a woman who has cleverly capitalised on the innate voyeurism of the British public to lift herself out of squalor and build herself and her children an enviable fortune.

Finally, the Devil levels blistering attacks upon, amongst others, Margot Wallstrom and Gordon Brown, essentially for their seeming inability to recognise that the realities inside their heads and outside them do not correspond. For all the fact that she is a woman herself, Margot has some damned funny ideas about women, and I object vociferously to her presumption to speak for us all. If I take what she says about women’s concerns at face value, I discover to my amazement that I am actually a man, caring nothing, as I do, for things like shared wealth and the preservation of the environment. She stands for all that I hate about the feminist movement: namely, this idea that women deserve some sort of special treatment to make up for the fact that they are women. Fuck that. If feminism has any legitimate goal, it should be that women are treated as human beings, with all of the attendant rights and liberties that any human being deserves. Continuing to differentiate us as a group and using that differentiation as an excuse to deprive other people of their rights and liberties is not only counter-productive, but insidiously evil.

Upon Gordon Brown’s delusions I shall not comment; the Devil has already done so, and with better invective than I could hope to produce.

On a different note, there is this theory tiptoeing around the blogosphere that the government wants us to riot this summer so that they can invoke the Civil Contingencies Act. There is some proof that the inflammatory baiting of our dear leaders is having an effect; I report a conversation witnessed on Facebook, of all places:

Status: John proposes a medieval-style riot in which we lynch the bankers (this must not, repeat not, turn into a pogrom).

Commenter: Hmph. That’s exactly what the government wants you to do.

John: By God, I’ve been programmed. I knew I should have worn the tin-foil hat. KILL THE BANKERS. KILL THE BANKERS. SPARE THE BUREAUCRATS (who do a difficult job in trying circumstances). I’m just a drone controlled by The Man. Tragic.

Yup – there’s the problem with all of us, right there: not enough love for the bureaucrats, who do a difficult job in trying circumstances. Send the love, y’all! They work their asses off, 10-4, four days a week, to fix the mess we’ve made. While you’re at it, why not pick your own bureaucrat to sponsor and send him (or, more likely, her) a nice fruit basket?


Mar 052009

The scene – bella and flatmate are discussing full-serve toilets, as featured in today’s Guardian.

Me: Those toilets don’t sound so bad, the way you describe them.

Flatmate: And you know what – the Japanese-style ones, they’re like Continental toilets in that there’s a little shelf for inspecting your output. It’s weird; there’s like this little Viking longship poo sitting there, and then you press the button, and whoosh, it sails out. I feel like I should salute as it goes past.

Me: [dies laughing]

Mar 032009


A sample:

And in these terms, a moderate, U-shaped recession is, frankly, boring. As a Slate colleague said to me, there’s no glory in just having a couple of banks fail. We want history. We want to go where no generation has gone before. We want to bounce grandkids on our lap and tell them folksy anecdotes about 70-percent-off sales, the Dow being 50+ percent off its all-time high, and the day print media died.

In the abstract, the prospect of a Greater Depression is intriguing. Over the past 80 years, we have successfully mythologized the 1920s and ’30s. Now it seems as if it would be an exciting time to live through, if only to be a witness to history.

He’ll be all right, jack:

Disclaimers are, of course, in order. I’m an urban, middle-class young person with a full-time job. I don’t have a mortgage or any investments to speak of; the Dow’s drop doesn’t kill my retirement fund, nor does the real estate panic chip away at my home equity. This is a symptom of youth, just like the aforementioned desire to be part of a new Great Depression. I am an outlier, existing on an atypical fringe of American society. That I’m a journalist doesn’t help—the more dramatic the narrative, the more exciting my job. Eventually, I will be just as much of a cheerleader for the Dow’s historic rebound rise as I was for its awesome fall.

I’ll admit, I’ve always been a bit thrilled by the idea of being part of a revolution (though not, ideally, a bloody and violent one), but I’m realistic enough to know that a revolution would be a dreadful, messy upheaval that’d squash that excitement sharpish – which is why I’m not out fanning the flames of discontent.

Poor Chad, on the other hand, is too young to understand that, even if the downturn gets no worse, it’s already history. If he wants stories with which to regale his grandchildren, better that he should recount that telephones used to have cords, and once upon a time there was no Google.

Slow news day?

 indolence  Comments Off on Slow news day?
Mar 032009

I suppose not much is happening in the great wide world today (apart from the ‘special relationship’ and those poor cricketers), because these were the top stories in the Telegraph this afternoon:

Gordon, only a new face can help you at this stage.

Everything you always wanted to know about your navel (but were afraid to ask).

South Korea and Springfield Lake: what do they have in common?

Mar 022009

Teaching a lesson on bias today, I gave my pupils a copy of Philip Pullman’s article in Friday’s Times. I’d link to it, but…

They read it carefully, some with dawning expressions of horror, and afterward we discussed his point of view and what influence he might be trying to exert.

At the end of the lesson, I said, ‘And do you know what? I read that article on the Times website at lunchtime on Friday. By Friday evening, it had disappeared.’



‘Dude,’ said one of them, with a kind of appalled admiration; ‘Pullman’s right!’

[Another money-quote from the lesson today: ‘You’d think, if someone were going to be in government, they’d at least bother to have some brains.]

How is it that children barely out of nappies can understand the implications of this stuff, but the British people by and large cannot? What the hell?