May 092009
 

Occasionally after work, Mr Smug Git and I repair to the local watering-hole and, lubricated by a pair of pints, proceed to sequester the pub’s copy of the Sun and roundly take the piss until (a) we run out of beer money, or (b) he has to get on the train back home.

Yesterday, most unusually considering the front pages of all the other newspapers in Christendom, the Sun carried no mention on its own front page of MPs’ expenses. Instead, the top stories were something to do with footballers being rude to referees, and this:

DD-Day: THE SUN’S campaign to axe the Marks & Spencer bra tax ended in a stunning victory last night.

‘We boobed,’ say Marks & Spencer. ‘In these times of economic trouble, we won’t charge £2 extra for Bras of Unusual Size.’

The Sun’s ‘Hands Off Our Boobs’ campaign, which I managed to miss entirely whilst it was being waged, appears to have championed a bizarre cause, but now that I think of it, hurrah for the Sun!

Because, for what is not a particularly complicated or cloth-intensive garment, the simple brassiere is one of the most expensive pieces of women’s couture. A rapid search of the M&S website ‘by price’ reveals that the most inexpensive bra they offer at the moment comes in at £8. (If one desires the matching knickers, it’s a further £3.) By contrast, one can purchase two tops for the same price, at £4 apiece.

Good on the Sun, I feel, for ensuring that large-busted women are not penalised by a £2 extra charge. It is bad enough that women fork out for these ridiculous apparatus anyway; those blessed (by nature or surgery) with generous chests shouldn’t have to pay even more for what is, let’s face it, two little triangles of cloth connected by a bit of cheap elastic and wire.

Somehow, however, I doubt the Sun will espouse the other women’s cause that is truly outrageous: the blatantly sexist charging of VAT, however reduced, on menstrual items that only women need – but not, let us remember, on things like Jaffa Cakes.

Tell you what, Ms. Harman: instead of championing economically stupid plans that actually hurt women (over-generous maternity leave, flexible working hours, shoehorning females into top banking positions a la affirmative action, etc), why don’t you take a page out of the Sun’s book and get this tampax tax eliminated?

Mar 152009
 

Atlas Shrugged is all over the blogs and the news recently, and with good reason. The authoritarians, statists, and socialists among us appear to clutch at every possible opportunity to ridicule the novel, and Rand herself, with the sort of viciousness that suggests they derive pleasure from being overtly nasty about a dead woman and her philosophy.

Their viciousness also suggests fear, or at the very least resentment, that Atlas Shrugged exposes the flaws in their ideology. Why else would they need to insult its author, misrepresent its message, and claim that it is poorly written? (Because, let’s face it – it’s not poorly written. Have these people ever cast a judgmental eye over, for example, Dan Brown? Jesus.)

The Guardian leapt upon the stick-pins-in-the-effigy-of-Rand bandwagon yesterday:

Of all the scary things you can get a graph to show, surely the most terrifying is a surge in sales of Ayn Rand novels.

Could this be because Rand’s wordy masterwork foretells the collapse of capitalism? That is indeed what happens in the book: machines break, production dwindles, society collapses into riot. And the novel knows exactly where to point the finger: it’s all the fault of big government, which is choking the free market under layers of anti-business law. Rand’s novel is also clear as to who can save us. Its hero, John Galt, is handsome and virile, a brilliant inventor, and the leader of a revolutionary vanguard composed of all the world’s great talents in industry and science, finance and the arts; eventually he will be joined by the beautiful Dagny Taggart, her body “slender”, her daddy’s railroad the biggest the world has ever known. Soon, more and more of these “superior minds” abandon the “second-handers” – also known as “mediocrities”, “parasites” and “mindless hordes” – to join Galt in his mountain hideaway. When Galt and Dagny at long last get together, the sign of the almighty dollar is traced upon the earth.

Ha! That crazy Rand and her anti-government paranoia. We all know that big-government regulation is what saves us from the collapse of society – I mean, if there had been more regulation, we wouldn’t be in this banking crisis right now… And good grief, her characters? Handsome, beautiful, brilliant? Physical beauty is an accident of birth, and brilliance and success are the products of society, of course. Or one’s daddy. How dare such people withdraw their productive genius from the very society, however composed of mediocrities, to which it is owed?

(I begin to believe that Jenny Turner has not, in fact, read the novel.)

Crazy and, it seems, the recipient of her just desserts:

Atlas Shrugged was Rand’s fourth and final novel. After it, she devoted herself to what her fans consider her “philosophy”, and to building the movement she called objectivism, which was, briefly, a presence in 50s American culture before imploding in feuds. Rand was, at her height, quite a figure – bob-haired, Russian-accented, dressed in a cape with a dollar-sign brooch, smoking a cigarette in a long holder – “When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind – and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression,” she wrote in Atlas Shrugged.

Since Rand’s death in 1982 – from lung cancer – her heirs have carried the movement forward, with a growing presence in academia…

You see, not only was her ‘philosophy’ not a real philosophy (thus the derisive quotation marks around it), she was also one of those icky smokers. Ugh.

According to Noam Chomsky, Rand was “one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history”. But this is surely an overstatement, given that during Rand’s lifetime, personal muddle and inherent ridiculousness limited her capacity to do harm. Slavoj Zizek gets closer to it when he writes that, though artistically “worthless”, her work has a lastingly “subversive dimension”. By taking “capitalist ideology” to extreme conclusions, Rand shows up its “fantasmatic kernel” – the babyish fantasies of power without consequence that, one could argue, caused the banks to sink themselves in the sub-prime mess in the first place.

The question, then, isn’t so much why Rand now? It’s more whether Randianism can have a long-term future, now that capitalism no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself.

Aha, yes – I thought we’d get around to this. Unbridled free markets of the sort Rand advocated have failed; capitalism has made a fool of itself; her ideas are inherently ridiculous.

Would somebody mind please explaining to me why, after the disasters that were Soviet Russia and Maoist China, and the on-going jokes that are Cuba and Venezuela, people refuse to admit that the unfree, centrally planned market is ‘inherently ridiculous’ and ‘no longer seems to need any help when making a fool of itself’? Why do criticisms of failure apply to free markets at the merest hint of an economic downturn, but not to bizarre socialist experiments that result in actual, devastating economic collapse?

Here’s the odd thing: the Guardian published an article about Atlas Shrugged last Tuesday as well. A very different article indeed, entitled ‘Greed is good: a guide to radical individualism‘:

Rand and her books were the embodiment of right-wing libertarianism and laissez-faire capitalism, which advocated the complete deregulation of business and finance and opposed any form of state welfare. She described her philosophy as “objectivism” or “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”.

At its heart is a mystery story: about why so many of the world’s most brilliant brains are disappearing and about who invented a new kind of motor. It tells the tale of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate, and their struggles as society collapses at the hands of an oppressive government and its parasitical bureaucrats. In the book, the best minds in terms of business, science and the arts are, in effect, on strike – the book was originally called The Strike. It espoused the essential Rand philosophy of “rational self-interest”.

Throughout her writing life, she promoted the idea expressed in the book: “Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good, you ask for your own destruction. When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another, then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns or dollars. Take your choice – there is no other.”

That is a vastly more realistic summary. Anybody have phone numbers for Jenny Turner and Duncan Campbell? Perhaps we should introduce them to one another.

Maybe the discrepancy is more to do with the section of the paper in which they are writing. Campbell’s article is filed under News->World News->United States, while Turner’s appears in Culture->Books->The week in books. And as we all know, Rand’s novel as a piece of literature is ‘artistically worthless’. Why, even ‘very distinguished old butch dykes‘ who teach literature in the universities don’t acknowledge it! And so, because literature students, those paragons of intellect and utility, have not read it, it must be a fad.

Rand never pretended that her beliefs were easy ones to swallow; much of the novel revolves around the difficulty the two main characters, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden, have accepting it. They fight until they last possible second to succeed in a world which punishes them for their success, which demands the products of their success whilst at the same time requiring their self-sacrifice and destruction.

And to many people, I think, that is what the world seems to want these days. People rabbit on about social responsibility, reducing inequality, and eradicating poverty without ever acknowledging that the productivity and profit-motive they condemn are the very things which make global prosperity possible. And that’s not even taking into account those occasional types who seem to loathe the idea of prosperity! The human race has spent the last three thousand years fighting its way out of the filth and misery into which it was born to reach a state of being in which literally anything is possible. We had the minds to do it three thousand years ago; what we didn’t have, until the last couple of centuries, was the leisure to think. And people condemn thinking as bad, and progress as evil, because it leaves others behind. Sacrifice is preferable to gain; a low quality of life for all is preferable to a shitty quality of life for some.

And because ambition cannot be stopped – because the Dagny Taggarts and Hank Reardens of the world have not yet learned to withdraw their sanction – it must be stifled, through regulation and legislation, and everyone must be made to believe that freedom and movement and reckless, momentous change are frightening.

Left-leaning friends of mine have often asked how, as a Christian, I can approve of selfishness and dislike the concept of sacrifice. Did not Christ sacrifice himself? Did he not say that, if you have two coats, you should give one to the man who has none?

I could embark here upon an exegesis of how I interpret Christian philosophy, but I’m not going to, because it’s not necessary. Even Christ, whose understanding of economics was pretty meagre, never demanded sacrifice without the promise of reward. The right acts and charity he advocated are, in one way, their own reward, because performing them makes us feel good. But he also promised the reward of paradise which, if you believe in such a thing, is a pretty good incentive, no?

What these socialist murderers of their own posterity desire is for us all to sacrifice without reward, metaphorically to throw ourselves in front of a bus because it might save a stranger, to produce without incentive and achieve without reward, to see the good of our fellow man as better than and separate from our own good, to give without enjoyment and receive without gratitude, and to continue doing so until we reach the only possible state of equality that exists: death.

And in a way, Atlas Shrugged is the most depressing book ever written, because we will all keep fighting – none of us can withdraw sanction – and there is no Galt’s Gulch. And so we struggle on and watch as human achievement collapses around our ears, and on every side the blame is entirely our own.

‘If the things I said are true, who is the guiltiest man in this room tonight?’
‘I suppose–James Taggart?’
‘No, Mr Rearden, it is not James Taggart. But you must define the guilt and choose the man for yourself.’

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 032009
 

Staggering.

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.

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.’

Silence.

Then:

‘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?

Feb 192009
 

As I sit here and listen to an enterprising builder outside whistle an excellent rendition of Grieg’s ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King,’ my thoughts turn to halls, and kings, and naturally thence, to the Middle Ages.

With my intellectual cap on, as opposed to my professional one, I am a medieval historian and have collected degrees in the subject in the same way that others might collect da Vinci sketches (i.e. expensively). In the hallowed drinking establishments of the world’s foremost institution of learning, I have pondered with fellow medievalists what it might have been like to live during the Middle Ages.

And, despite speculations about the scholarly aestheticism of monastic existence, or the bellicose excitement inherent in noble birth, we decided that it would have been utter shit.

So why – and I have seen this flagged up on Tim and the Landed Underclass already today – are there people, bred in luxurious modernity, who want us to go back to it?

Monty Don, the former BBC Gardener’s World presenter, said the UK could run out of food “within weeks” because the country is so dependent on imports and it was essential for the country to grow more of our own food.

He urged businesses around the country to follow the lead of the National Trust: “If every household, business, office or factory dug up a patch of land there would literally be millions of allotments made available. This is just the start of something really big.”

I will tell you when we really will run out of food, and that is when we stop depending on imports. In the Middle Ages, when importing food was impractical due to the obvious problem of it rotting in transit, local growing conditions meant the difference between a full belly and death by starvation. With the succession of overly-dry and overly-wet summer growing seasons Britain has experienced in the past four years, had we relied entirely on local produce, we all would have starved.

The other problem with eating only local produce is, of course, that delightful as these shores may be, we’d all be eating nothing but turnips and parsnips from November to March. A four-month diet of root vegetables might solve the nation’s obesity problem, but the incidence of malnutrition (particularly things like scurvy) would soar to fifteenth-century levels.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said it was not just the recession driving demand for land to grow food but the desire to “reconnect” with the soil.

“More and more people want to grow their own fruit and vegetables,” she said. “This isn’t just about saving money – it’s really satisfying to sow seeds and harvest the fruit and veg of your labour.”

Oh, indeed – it’s very satisfying to till the soil and eat the fruits of one’s labour, as long as one doesn’t have to do it from sun-up to sun-down eight months out of the year, and as long as the fruits of one’s labour are sufficient to keep body and soul together. As the Landed Underclass points out, subsistence farming is hard on the body and, unless one has the luxury of farm-labourers and a horse-drawn plough, unlikely to generate enough produce for actual, y’know, subsistence.

But perhaps in addition to sharing allotments, we will all have the privilege of access to the village horse. It might even be better to have a system wherein the municipality’s food is grown entirely on common land, the care for a strip of which is allocated to every resident. Then we can all reconnect with the soil, and our roots, and our ancient heritage. While we’re at it, we can reconnect with bathing in the freezing rivers and defecating in buckets!

Christ, haven’t these people learned anything? If living off our own fucking local food was so great, our ancestors wouldn’t have escaped in relief from doing it as soon as conditions made it possible. Pardon me while I descend into teleological historicity, but isn’t one of the purposes of chronicling human development to avoid past mistakes, rather than to do the same stupid shit all over again?

Excellent burn

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Feb 182009
 

The pithy Tim Worstall makes my heart happy. Of John Harris, ignorant twat, he says:

For just as using a plough rather than a stick to scrape the earth for our food frees up labour to do other things, like wipe babies’ bottoms, treat cancer or go on Celebrity Big Brother, so reducing the number of jobs in retail frees up people to go and write fatuous columns for the national newspapers about how they misunderstand the basic concepts and tenets of the real world.

Feb 172009
 

It’s Tuesday again, and so I wander over to the Guardian to read Polly’s latest, this time a piece about teen pregnancy (can’t fault her for the relevance factor, what with this tiny-tot father all over the news) and the failure of New Labour.

The failure of New Labour, you may ask? Indeed, she has said this very thing, although as is her wont, not in the same way most of us might say it.

She begins from the unstated premise that teen pregnancy is not a good thing, although her reasoning is a bit skewed:

Britain’s teenage pregnancy rates are appalling, with only the US worse in the west. Why? Because teen pregnancy tracks inequality. That does not absolve Alfie, Chantelle and their parents of their personal responsibilities. But the most unequal nations have the greatest number of dysfunctional families, unless the cycle is broken by determined and expensive intervention in generation after generation.

Teenage parenthood is linked to higher crime rates, poverty, and disadvantage in the children of teen mothers, as well as a greater likelihood for those children to become teenaged parents themselves. However, contrary to what Polly implies, teenage parenthood is generally correlated as the cause of those things, not a result of them. Teen pregnancy doesn’t track inequality; it precedes it.

Never mind that, though. We all agree, though perhaps for different reasons, that there should be less teenage pregnancy. Why has New Labour failed to achieve this?

First, and most disastrous, David Blunkett, at education, point-blank refused to introduce compulsory top-quality sex education. (No, don’t even stop to think about that one.) Only now is Labour at last introducing it in an autumn bill – amid fears it might get fatally delayed or succumb to the Mail’s mad anti-sex education campaign.

Translation: the government was pressured, not by the electorate, but by the Daily Mail, into not imposing a forced centrally-planned educational decree on schools.

Why else did they fail?

…money was found to provide good contraceptive clinics, but it was given to local health services with neither ringfencing nor monitoring to see that it was actually spent on teenage clinics. Why not? Because the government has been politically intimidated into ordering “less top-down” and more “local”, with disastrous results for many key programmes.

Translation: the government gave local authorities tax moneys extorted from the nation at large, but failed to impose a forced centrally-planned spending decree on those authorities.

The teen pregnancy story is a good microcosm of the Labour years. To halve the rate was a colossal ambition. It was a far harder target than halving child poverty – no simple putting of money into tax credits can change the deep culture of sexual behaviour. Of all the things the state can and can’t do, making people have sex only with the right people at the right time is the least amenable to Whitehall action.

‘Least amenable,’ take note. Not, as the rest of sane humanity might say, ‘least possible or desirable.’

And so, Polly finishes up, the problem has not been Labour’s disastrous policies of rewarding teen parents with social housing and child benefit, thus creating an incentive for teenagers to procreate, nor the complete failure of a patriarchal society to get over its Puritanical hang-ups about sex. No, no! The problem is that Labour have not done enough to force top-down social planning, paid for by punitive taxation, on a society that does not match its ideal of equality and conformity for all:

Labour has tried, but most of Europe, under more decades of social democratic governments, has worked harder for longer. Too often Labour thought it could move mountains with teaspoons, making Swedish promises with neither Swedish taxes, nor the will to force social democratic policies on to local services. There will be plenty more Alfie, Shannon and Baby P stories – testaments not to a worsening “broken Britain” but to a low tax, weak social policy century that Labour has only started to improve.

Fucking hell, Polly: even when you get it right, you get it wrong.

Melanie Phillips loses the plot

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Feb 092009
 

Melanie Phillips, author of such calmly objective columns in the Daily Mail as ‘To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available is a sickening assault on family life‘, is seemingly incapable of catching a point even when lobbed at her underhand at 20mph with a wiffle ball. Witness today’s column, entitled ‘Drugs no worse than horse-riding? The folly of these ‘experts’ simply beggars belief,’ in which she attacks everything about the recent statements by Prof. David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs except (a) what he actually said, and (b) his funny name.

Let’s take a quick look at the Outrage-O-Meter. Sarcastic questions with tone of faux incredulity? Check.

Has April Fools’ Day come early this year?

Hyperbolic language? Check. [Emphasis mine.]

Yet the Advisory Council will this week propose the downgrading of ecstasy from category A to category B — having apparently learned nothing from the debacle over cannabis, the downgrading of which contributed to an explosion of all drug use.

More astonishingly still, Professor Nutt has said that ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding.

In an academic paper, he ridiculed concern about the effects of ecstasy by comparing it to ‘equasy’ or ‘Equine Addiction Syndrome’.

And:

You really do have to scrape your jaw off the floor. Not only will such trivialisation of ecstasy cause grave distress to parents whose children have died from taking the drug, but it knocks the ground from under the feet of parents terrified that their children will start taking it.

Cherry-picking or misrepresentation of facts and/or statistics? Check.

The only reason there are not many more deaths from ecstasy is that unlike horseriding, it is illegal.

And the ill-effects of ecstasy are not limited to death. Professor Nutt says horseriding can lead to brain damage — but fails to say that ecstasy almost inevitably harms the brain.

Pardon me while I laugh myself silly at the linguistic inexactitude of the phrase ‘almost inevitably.’

Faulty syllogisms? Check.

His co-director, Amanda Neidpath, who advocates the bizarre practice of ‘trepanation’ (boring a hole in the skull) as a protective measure against dementia, told a meeting of the World Psychedelic Forum that the Beckley Foundation’s projects included investigating the ‘possible beneficial use of micro-doses of LSD to improve cerebral circulation’.

Goodness me, micro-doses of LSD! Give ’em an inch, and soon we’ll all be trippin’. Because something is an illegal recreational drug does not mean it hasn’t got its legitimate uses, just as because something is a legal pharmacological treatment for illness does not mean it isn’t dangerous.

Unsubstantiated claims? Check.

The Advisory Council is riddled with ‘harm reduction’ advocates who, believing it impossible to prevent young people from using illegal drugs at all, are therefore reluctant to admit the full extent of the harm they actually do.

For substantiated claims, and a very thorough analysis of UK drug policy and the role of the Advisory Council, see Unity’s excellent piece at the Ministry of Truth.

Hysterical blaming? Check.

The single most important reason why Britain’s drug problem is now out of control is that a critical mass of defeatist police officers, spineless politicians, global legalisation lobbyists with bottomless pockets and the ‘great and the good’, determined to prevent their drug-taking offspring from acquiring criminal records, all talk down the risks of drug use and talk up legalisation.

And finally, graceless and inapropos classical allusion? Check.

Horse-riding it isn’t; but there’s an Augean stables here which cries out to be cleaned.

In her ill-informed, righteous indignation, Ms Phillips echoes Home Secretary and total whore Jacqui Smith, who also missed the boat entirely.

The boat, point, and plot being that Prof Nutt was not making a claim about the empirical dangers of ecstasy. He was making an observation about contemporary British views regarding risk: namely, that some extremely risky behaviours are not only legal but even encouraged, whilst others that are statistically no more life-threatening are stigmatised and criminalised (an argument elegantly proffered, with emphasis on Home Secretary and total whore Jacqui Smith’s hypocrisy vis a vis compliance with law, by the pithy Mr Eugenides).

Is it really so much to ask that the journalists who are meant to protect and promote our traditional liberties not be blithering, propagandising, disingenuous morons?