Nov 042009
 

In the words of David Osler:

This place is poor; in your face, 40% below the poverty line, smack addicts congregating in the shopping centre, poor.

Things have pretty much always been that way, of course. One hundred years ago, Springburn was the site of the largest workhouse in Scotland. A century of progress later, and levels of deprivation remain among the highest not just in Britain, but come near the top of the table for western Europe as a whole. It never got noticeably better at any point in between, either.

The constituency goes to the polls in a by-election in two weeks’ time, and normally the result would not be in any doubt. The seat and its predecessor have effectively been Labour non-stop since 1935, and may well stay that way…

A century ago, Glasgow NE was gut-wrenchingly poor. After 75 years of ‘non-stop’ Labour representation, the area is…still gut-wrenchingly poor. In fact, it’s never become ‘noticeably better.’

Oops.

Nov 032009
 

I’ve yet to see any evidence that the American polity is avid for more sophisticated public policy discussion. Frankly, they seem a lot more interested in plausible enemies and improbable free lunches, which is the level on which both parties are mostly campaigning.

Megan McArdle

American political debate consists almost entirely of Us and Them scare tactics in which talk show hosts appear to be the face of party policies more than the politicians themselves. Imagine, if you will, a Britain in which Jeremy Paxman thinks Cameron is Hitler and Melanie Philips thinks Gordon Brown is a Communist, and that is all people know or want to know about either of the main parties. That’s basically America at the moment. Reason does not hold sway, to say the least.

Oct 222009
 

I know Mr E said he was sick of hearing about it (sorry, dude), but since Nick Griffin’s forthcoming appearance is all over the internet, and my feed reader, and the newspapers, I feel compelled to write about it again, mainly because I suspect I don’t really understand the furore.

If you read this blog often, you’ll be aware that I’m one of them durty furriners, who despite years of ridicule and reminders, is still not fully emBritified.

And what I don’t understand, perhaps, is the significance of Question Time.

The BNP have been on the news, and on news commentary programs, even on the BBC, loads of times. Nick Griffin, as party leader and then as a candidate and now as an MEP, presumably goes to public meetings where regular people get to ask him about his views. He certainly gets plenty of interaction with the public in the form of protesters hurling abuse (and eggs) at his creepy face. His views, and those of his party, have been outlined and discussed and debated in newspapers. The BNP have a website detailing their policies. This man and his party have never not been given ‘a platform.’

So what’s the big deal about Question Time? It’s just another news program, right?

I mean, having Nick Griffin on the program is not exactly like pissing on a shrine, or taking shoes into a Mosque, or slipping bacon fat into the matzo-ball soup.

I get that Question Time is something of a big deal, what with it being a respected, once-a-week, publicly attended forum. But good grief, Griffin was interviewed on Newsnight. Surely that’s a respected (if more regular and less public) forum on the BBC, too. From my perspective, Question Time isn’t any more of a ‘platform’ than anything else the BNP have been featured on.

Is there outcry because QT is the country’s current-affairs Holy of Holies?

Or is there outcry because, as I suspect, it’s nothing to do with the program or the ‘platform’ – but because other ‘respected’ politicians don’t want to have to share oxygen, and thereby association, with a man who’s stealing their votes an unapologetic racist?

Only 5 hours to go, by the way. I’m getting really excited. Somebody had better end up looking like a jackass on QT tonight, otherwise I shall feel cheated.

UPDATE: Hurrah! Everybody looked like a jackass. They’re all shits. Yes, Nick Griffin got his ass handed to him on a platter, and that was great. I loved it. His hands were shaking by the end.

But the general hostility of the British people, as represented by many in that audience, was breathtaking. On the one hand, they hated Nick Griffin: they applauded when he was shown up, and booed when he said offensive things, and made it clear they had no love for his racism or his party’s policy of repatriation. On the other hand, they wanted to know what the government was going to do to stem the incoming tide of durty furriners.

‘Oh no, we’re not racists! We just think the population’s grown too huge and put too much of a strain on the public services!’

To be fair to him, Jack Straw was totally accurate when he said that recently the Labour government has made it much harder for immigrants to get work permits. When Baroness Warsi disputed that, I actually shouted ‘Fuck your mother’ at the television set. ‘Cause yeah – they have made it much harder. I’m the fucking proof. And every time I read or hear some sanctimonious twat going on about how there’s too much immigration, I want to punch him in the fucking face.

Right; that’s enough bitching for now. For the moment, the British people are dead to me. Here’s hoping I feel better about them in the morning.

Oct 142009
 

Meanwhile, in crazy-land, the Saudis want oil-consuming nations to compensate them for all the oil we won’t be buying in our efforts to reduce climate change.

It’s like that bit in Catch-22 wherein Major Major’s father is paid generously by the US government for not growing alfalfa. Throughout Major Major’s childhood, his father buys up more and more land so as to get more and more money from the US government for the increasing amount of alfalfa he’s not growing.

And as Megan McArdle points out, crazy-land is not so far away from home:

Commenter Mike in DC adds “The sad thing is that if it were Midwestern farmers making this argument rather than Saudis, it would be taken seriously.”

Oct 052009
 

Charlie Brooker:

I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain. I can’t possibly read all these pages, watch all these movies, before the grim reaper comes knocking. The bastard things are going to outlive me. It’s not fair. They can’t even breathe.

Clearly, some sort of cull is in order. It’s me or them. I pick them. My options need limiting.

Here’s what I want: I want to be told what to read, watch and listen to. I want my hands tied. I want a cultural diet. I want a government employee to turn up on my doorstep once a month, carrying a single book for me to read. I want all my TV channels removed and replaced by a single electro-pipe delivering one programme or movie a day. If I don’t watch it, it gets replaced by the following day’s selection. I want all my MP3s deleted and replaced with one unskippable radio station playing one song after the other. And every time I think about complaining, I want a minotaur to punch me in the kidneys and remind me how it was before.

In short: I’ve tried more. It’s awful. I want less, and I want it now.

Charlie, you sad bastard. Discover some self-control, for Christ’s sake, stop being such a baby, and limit your fucking options yourself.

Sep 252009
 

Being a politician must be so hard sometimes. Sandwiched between three mutually exclusive needs – to promote himself, to cover his ass, and to appear to be a normal human – any successful office-holder will, from time to time, find himself forced to make statements of extremely dubious morality, not to mention crass stupidity:

The paper quotes the mole as saying: “It’s not easy to watch footage on the television news of a coffin draped in a Union Jack and then come in to work the next day and see on your computer screen what MPs are taking for themselves.”

The mole claimed the contrast between conditions facing soldiers and the MPs’ claims “helped tip the balance in the decision over whether I should or should not leak the expenses data”.

Asked on Sky News if he understood the motivation for the expenses leak, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “I don’t think so.”

What’s happened to you, Gordon? Did somebody polarise your moral compass to point south? Or do you truly not understand why somebody might feel morally obliged to expose how the nation’s representatives were busy enriching themselves at the expense of the lives of the nation’s defenders?

Hey, though, at least the soldiers have helmets, boots, and socks. What more could they possibly need? Never mind that, by your own admission, the taxpayers’ cash you spent on refurbishing your kitchen could have equipped two extra soldiers – or given nine of them a £1000 pay rise. But where’s the point in that, right? The more of them who die from lack of equipment, the fewer you have to pay for, making the pot of money available to you that little bit bigger.

Sep 162009
 

In fan-fiction parlance, the Gary Stu is the male equivalent of a Mary Sue, a fictional character who acts as a place-holder for the wish fulfilment fantasies of the author.

This morning, in a shameful moment of weakness and curiosity (brought on, no doubt, by not having had my coffee yet), I picked up Dan Brown’s new novel, The Lost Symbol, sequel to the magnificently awful The Da Vinci Code. With my evening free because the Devil is reaping souls in Wales, I began to read, and on page 8, came across this piece of hilarity:

‘I hate to embarrass you, Professor,’ the woman said, sounding sheepish, ‘but you are the Robert Langdon who writes books about symbols and religion, aren’t you?’

Langdon hesitated and then nodded.

‘I thought so!’ she said, beaming. ‘My book group read your book about the sacred feminine and the church! What a delicious scandal that one caused! You do enjoy putting the fox in the henhouse!’

Langdon smiled. ‘Scandal wasn’t really my intention.’

If that weren’t enough proof, further down the same page:

Langdon glanced down at his attire. He was wearing his usual charcoal turtleneck, Harris Tweed jacket, khakis, and collegiate cordovan loafers…his standard attire for the classroom, lecture circuit, author photos, and social events.

And so I turn to the author photo of Dan Brown on the back flap of the jacket, and lo and behold – he is wearing a tweed jacket, khakis, and the irritatingly smug grin of a very poor writer who has become very rich indeed. He probably has on loafers, but the picture doesn’t show his feet. Although I suppose it’s entirely possible he’s still got on his gravity boots.

Still – for a book with a retail price of £18.99, WH Smith was very kind to charge me only £5. (And yes, I put down the book, having only reached page 8, to write this blog post. For the curious among you, it has not yet turned out to be a page-turner.)

Aug 052009
 

Oh, George. Read your own words:

As any old hippy will tell you, festivals aren’t what they used to be. Gone are the days when you could announce a happening, call up a few mates with drums and guitars, and put the word out that something groovy and free was about to kick off. In these buttoned-down times, it would be treated like an al-Qaida training camp. Today, you must apply for a licence and spend months of your life filling in forms and liaising with the various responsible authorities. There are good reasons for this: it ensures that no one is crushed to death and that local people aren’t harried by intolerable noise and disruption. There are also bad reasons: the controlling, snooping, curtain-twitching state tendencies which insist that all spontaneity be planned six months in advance, that no one can ever take her top off or smoke homegrown weed or get a little bit outrageous – even within a festival site – for fear of offending some tight-arsed busybody in desperate need of a life.

You didn’t defend us when they snooped in our rubbish bins. You didn’t defend us when they fined us for not recycling properly. You didn’t defend us when Jamie Oliver wanted to dictate what chickens we buy at the supermarket. You have been, for some time now, one of the tight-arsed busybodies in desperate need of a life.

And now they’ve turned on you and your pet causes, too. Doesn’t feel nice, does it? Lie in the bed you helped to make, George. Lie there and learn to love it.

Aug 052009
 

…what all my immigration struggle is for; because having picked up yesterday’s Guardian rather lazily this evening, I appear to have forgotten in the midst of my spluttering, outraged indignation.

The story, on page 4, is headlined ‘Canvass for a political party to win points for a British passport, says immigration minister‘ (the headline on the website is sneakily different) and begins:

New migrants willing to canvass for Labour or another political party could get a British passport within a year under citizenship proposals announced today by the immigration minister, Phil Woolas.

They also face being sent on compulsory “orientation days” where they will be taught British values, social norms and customs – and be charged for the privilege.

What? What? What the fuck is this? Canvass for Labour! Pay under compulsion to learn to be British! This is the country that gave the world Locke, Mill, and its most cogent expressions of liberty. Are these ministers not listening to themselves?

A Home Office consultation paper, Earning the Right to Stay in Britain, proposes a new “points test for citizenship” and confirms that ministers are looking at ways of penalising those who demonstrate “an active disregard for UK values” when they apply for a British passport.

The Home Office refused to specify what might be covered by the phrase “active disregard”. Woolas said migrants would be expected to show their commitment to Britain. He declined to discuss refusing passports to those who protest at army homecoming parades, a policy idea attributed to Home Office sources over the weekend.

Ooh, and migrants can enjoy the pleasure of being penalised for showing ‘active disregard’ for UK values, without ever being told quite what that entails. Except that the juxtaposition of information in this article suggests that ‘active disregard’ for British values might include, oh I dunno, not canvassing for Labour.

Probationary citizens are to be given temporary residence for five years. They can accelerate or delay the process of becoming full citizens depending upon the pace of their integration into British life. The Home Office paper says a central pillar of this approach will be active citizenship. Those who take part in voluntary work such as becoming a school governor, or “contributing to the democratic life of the nation” through trade union activities, or by actively campaigning and canvassing for a political party, could get their citizenship within 12 months rather than the expected average of three years.

Voluntary organisations have protested that such voluntary work could be seen as compulsory in these circumstances. Concerns have also been voiced about the possible abuse of offering a passport in return for political canvassing.

Fucking right, there could be possible abuse. Wait – possible abuse? Surely not – the very purpose of this proposal is its abuse. Nor will it be called ‘abuse’ – because enshrining it in immigration law makes it legal.

Local authorities are to have a greater role in integrating migrants, including verifying the points accumulated by each applicant. They will also offer orientation days on British values and customs on top of the existing citizenship ceremonies.

The Home Office suggests these could be voluntary or compulsory, and that completing a course could contribute to the points total, but the cost will have to be paid by the migrant. A citizenship application this year costs £720, including £80 for a ceremony. The money is non-refundable in the event of refusal. More than 9,000 refusals were made last year, nearly a third owing to failing the “good character test” – mostly because of a criminal record. Only 610 were turned down because of lack of knowledge of English or of life in the UK.

Voluntary or compulsory, hmm? Cost to be paid by the migrant? No shit. I am astonished by my total lack of astonishment. Applications that cost buttloads, but the fee is non-refundable even if the application is refused? I am bowled over, truly I am. Let’s do the math: £720 per application, with at least 9,000 applications refused, equals £6,480,000 free and clear, for the acquisition of which the government did no work, but simply allowed desperate foreigners to donate to the revenue and operation of a country the citizenship of which they were subsequently denied.

Make that £6,480,820, actually, to include the fee from my own refused application.

Woolas said earned citizenship would give the government more control over the numbers of people permitted to settle in Britain permanently, with the bar raised or lowered according to need.

According to need? Is that some silly joke? You have to have wheelbarrows of cash sitting around just to apply for visas or citizenship in Britain, plus an earnings history the requisite size of which defies all sense, plus enough cash stored away to meet the maintenance requirement, plus fuckloads of spare time to devote to citizen orientation courses, compulsory volunteer work, and political canvassing – and they’re going to raise or lower the bar according to need? What need?

Oh, right: the need for more Labour voters.

Kill me now; I’m no longer sure I can stand the idea of living in a world like this.

UPDATE: Wow, nobody else seems to like this development either. Surprise!

Here’s Shazia Mira, commenting in the very same issue of the Guardian:

Scratch the surface even slightly, and what you find is the truth about how this government would like all its citizens – new applicant or not – to behave. Do not complain. Do not question authority. Do not protest. This government is behaving worryingly like an online predator who grooms children. It is grooming a population for unquestioning compliance. Not just migrants – everyone is being groomed.

And a Guardian editorial, again in yesterday’s issue:

“Once you’ve got a British passport you can demonstrate as much as you like. Until then, don’t.” If ever a caricature of a policy sounded designed to provoke a slap-down, then you might have thought this was it. But when a BBC interviewer yesterday described plans to overhaul the citizenship rules with these words, the immigration minister Phil Woolas signalled she had put it in a nutshell. The topsy-turvy idea of immigrants being made to respect supposedly British values, such as free speech, while being excluded from these themselves did not seem to faze Mr Woolas at all.

Of course it didn’t faze him. Guess what I’m going to say next.*

Finally, Chris Huhne, a man I never thought I’d gaze upon with anything approaching approbation, slaps down these proposals. It’s kind of a girly slap, without much power behind it, but it’s a slap nonetheless:

In this case, the good ideas are obscured by the statement from Alan Johnson in the News of the World that points could be docked for bad behaviour. This is understandable if the government is referring to people committing criminal offences, but the notion seems to go further. The home secretary seems to want to be the chief constable of the thought police. In insisting that people demonstrate a commitment to Britain, they are suggesting that people could be barred from citizenship for engaging in “unpatriotic behaviour”. This strikes me as being distinctly un-British.

Britain has a proud history of freedom of expression and of citizen protest. Despite recent government attempts to curtail such freedoms, it is precisely this tradition that attracts many people to this country in the first place. It is paradoxical to suggest that migrants could be prevented from acquiring citizenship for engaging in behaviour that British citizens take for granted. People should not be barred from becoming British citizens merely because they have the temerity to criticise government policy. If that were the case, I would have failed any citizenship test many times over. Even some members of the Labour party would find it hard to pass.

Perhaps the government will set up a House un-British Activities Committee. I’d find that fitting.

The government will find itself facing difficult decisions and inevitably making mistakes in a system that will be both subjective and bureaucratic.

Mistakes? Subjective and bureaucratic? No, no, no, my naive Lib Dem. Guess what I’m going to say next.*

*That’s not a bug, IT’S A FEATURE.

It occurs to me that if the Border Agency discover this blog, I’m fucked…

Jun 152009
 

As a comment on this article about rape prosecutions, I find this:

As a lawyer, it disturbs me that a politically correct state is seeking to tell jurors what they are permitted to think about human behaviour. The insoluble problem with prosecuting rape is that the act is not unlawful in itself, but is made unlawful purely by the state of mind of the participants.
Feliks Kwiatkowski, Haywards Heath, England

Now, rape is obviously one of those difficult issues, but logic is generally not, so here we go:

First, juries are always told what to think about human behaviour, at least while they are in the jury box. They are always instructed to decide their verdict on the basis of the admissible evidence. All this article is saying is that the rape victim’s dress, level of physical resistance to the rapist, and the time elapsed between the rape and the formal accusation are no longer admissible evidence on which the jury can base their verdict. This is already the case with most other crimes: how one looks, whether one resists, and how long one takes to report it when one is the victim of theft are not considered evidence either.

Second, of course the act – penetrative sex – is not unlawful in itself. Nor is the transfer of cash from one individual to another. It is the state of mind of the participants that makes the actions a crime – namely, it is the absence of willingness or choice on the part of one party that makes the sex rape, and makes the receipt of cash theft. This is not an ‘insoluble problem’ in the case of theft, nor is it a problem in the case of rape.

The difficulty with rape, which this commenter, being a lawyer, ought to be able to articulate more clearly, is not that it is classified as a crime for bizarre reasons, or that the judges in rape cases can instruct the jury how to arrive at a verdict.

If we think in terms of theft: I cannot actually prove that a mugger has robbed me at gunpoint if nobody saw it happen. It’s my word against his that I didn’t give the money to him willingly and of my own choice. My mugger may have been accused or convicted of theft before, which supports my claim a bit, but then again he may not. My mugger may be a total stranger to me, which supports my claim a bit, but then again he may not.

With rape, again, if there are no witnesses, it’s the victim’s word against the alleged rapist’s, and the victim cannot prove the sex was not willing and done out of choice. The alleged rapist may have a record, but he (or she) may not; the alleged rapist may be a stranger to the victim, but he (or she) may not.

The difficulty with rape, therefore, is not in the act of sex itself, or the legal obligations of judge and jury, or even in the nature of the evidence when considered in comparison to other roughly analogous criminal situations. The difficulty is in perception, both of the victim and the accused, and of rape itself as a crime.

Most people are willing to take the word of a victim of theft. The punishment for theft is lighter as well. But many people, whether they will admit this or not, are innately sceptical of a rape victim’s claim, especially if the person they claim has raped them is a friend, family member, or other acquaintance. ‘Maybe it was a misunderstanding,’ they think. ‘Maybe the unwillingness wasn’t made clear enough at the time.’ The punishment for rape is harsh. There may also be an awareness that there is no recompense for rape; victims of theft can get their money back, but what is it exactly that a victim of rape has lost? One can argue that they have lost a sense of personal sovereignty and safety, but this is true of mugging victims also, and is equally intangible in that case. There is, too, the perception that thieves will continue to be thieves, but that rapes are unique to their situations. And so many people will give the accused the benefit of the doubt – not entirely unreasonably – in a way they wouldn’t do if the crime were theft – because conviction does very little to help the victim and does enormous damage to the convicted.

One person I’ve discussed this with has suggested that the problem is in the nature of consent: society (and the legal system) views all sex as consensual unless otherwise clearly stated at the time. Remaining silent is presumed to be consent as well. The solution: all sex should be presumed to be non-consensual unless otherwise stated. This is, after all, how we treat other issues of bodily sovereignty, for example organ donation. (Although I’m aware there’s a move afoot in the UK to change that.) This is also how we treat theft: if I agree to the exchange of that money, all I have to do is not call the police and make an accusation of theft. If a person agrees to have sex, all they would have to do is not call the police and make an accusation of rape. Then, if a rape occurs and goes to court, the various attorneys can get into the problem of thorny evidence, etc, but at least the victim will be spared the necessity of having to prove a negative.