Saturday, 27 November 2010

Old hat, old hate

Lefthandpalm is bemused to learn of an expose, courtesy of the BBC's Panorama documentary program, of secretive pseudo-schools operating in Britain, where, according to the Daily Mail,
Children in Britain are being taught brutal Sharia law punishments, including how to hack off a criminal’s hand or foot.

So-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six also teach that the penalty for gay sex is execution and that ‘Zionists’ are plotting to take over the world for the Jews.

One set textbook challenges youngsters to list the ‘reprehensible’ qualities of Jews.

Another for six-year-olds asks them to answer what happens to someone who dies who is not a believer in Islam. The answer being looked for is ‘hellfire’. (1)
This is old shit, reheated. The very first 'proper' post on Lefthandpalm, back in 2007, concerned a controversy around the King Fahad academy and allegations of 'dodgy textbooks,' a claim lodged by one Colin Cook, who was a disgruntled ex-staff member (2). That was drummed up by the Mail as well, and Newsnight rather cravenly got on board.

As I recall pointing out back then, I have used textbooks which asked students to list 'reprehensible' qualities of Jews. The text book in question was a social studies tome, and the exercise in question required students to identify the libels heaped on Jews over the centuries. It wasn't asking them to endorse these sentiments, just be aware of them. Without context, we can't be sure these 'Sharia' text books (bet you they are the same ones as the King Fahad academy used) are doing anything more untoward than that.

Now, that doesn't mean this is precisely the same, but nothing in the coverage I've seen suggests that it is anything more than the same preposterous crap. Children are not being taught to chop hands of thieves, kill gays and the like. They are just being taught about how Islam is practiced in Saudi Arabia. It doesn't necessarily follow that they are being encouraged to do these things, any more than children being taught about slavery are being taught to own slaves, or students learning about the Auschwitz gas chambers are being taught to kill Jews.

(In fairness the Mail does make this distinction, albeit in such a way as to give the impression that Something Really Terrible is happening.)

(And further fairness, it's quite likely that the students at these pseudo-schools are getting told that the Wahhabist interpretation of Islam is the only true way and this is how things should be done; but that's subtly different from telling them to do it.)

There's an underlying issue here, about whether we want children being taught about the reprehensible practices of Wahhabi Islam. Here, we have to be careful. A crack down on this will effectively mean granting the government the power to investigate and approve/disapprove almost any aspect of parenting. They'll be able to snoop on any interaction between individuals where 'values' may be transmitted.

It's the old liberal dilemma - to protect the liberties we all value, we have to extend that same protection to people we might not particularly like. As long as they all play with in the rules - and some of these pseudo-schools may be treading a very fine line - then we don't want to throw away all the nice protections we enjoy to satisfy some visceral desire to be Doing Something.

I don't like what is happening in these schools, but unless it can be clearly shown they've actually broken the law, then we have to accept that parents have the right to teach their children values and ideas we might not like. It would be unwise to grant the state the degree of power it would need to be able to intervene in such matters. Other states have taken it upon themselves to interfere in the private lives of their citizens and eradicate religious tendencies they dislike. They have not been good and happy places.

If we want to get rid of crap authoritarian lawmongering, which blighted the New Labour experiment, we have to accept it is going to license some things we might not personally like very much.
1 - "Sharia lessons for pupils aged six: BBC uncovers 'weekend schools' that teach pupils how to hack off thieves' hands," by James Slack. Published by The Daily Mial, 24th of November, 2010. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1331789/Sharia-lessons-pupils-aged-BBC-uncovers-weekend-schools.html)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm;
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2007/02/king-fahad-academy-teaches-hate.html

More sub-wonkish UK polling ruminations

Another clutch of polls wich continue to show the major UK parties effectively tied (1).
24 Nov 40 40 9 Tie
23 Nov 42 40 10 Con +2
22 Nov 41 38 11 Con +3
Its simplistic to say that this is down to unpopular cuts. The Tories share is still consistently around 40% which is a touch higher than they achieved at the election. Any collapse in support for the Tories due to unpopular policy is still to come. The difference is a transfer of about 10% of the vote from the Lib Dems to Labour - probably, the Social Democrat faction signalling their disgust with the coalition.

If Labour can retain that portion of the Lib Dem vote, or at least a decent share of it, and there is a 4-5% wane in Tory support as the cuts bite, then 2015 will be a not an other 1997, but another 1789.
1 - As per UK Polling Report, viewed on 27th of Novemeber, 2010. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/)

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pike River II

Some further thoughts, not really about the Pike River Tragedy itself - for what really needs to be said about that?

I noticed a couple of things about the men who fronted for the media, eith in their professional capactiy - Peter Whittall, Gary Knowles, Tony Kokshoorn - or the various local men that the media talked to about the tragedy as it developed. The first thing I noticed was that they were almost without exception, men. And, when pressed to speak, they did so with remarkable fluency, thought, courage and emotion. The stereotype of the rugged Southern bloke, laconic to the point of inarticulacy, emotionally stunted to the point of autism, is an injustice to the men of Greymouth.

If it seems that the workeng men of the South and the Tasman coast are like that, it is only in contrast to the vapid emotional incontinence of more urban climes, where babble takes the place of having nothing to say, and cheap emotional display disguises our unfamiliarity with true feeling.

The men of Greymouth demonstrated they could speak calmly in the face of tragedy; could be emotional without being over-wrought; could describe their feelings and their fear perfectly adequately, but could keep them controlled because this wasn't the time and place; could show courage, dignity and leadership; and could confront a crisis calmly and, under immense pressure, make the right calls.

It's with reference to this last that I raise my second point, which is what I consider the very poor performance by the media in the face of this. While the men dealing with this disaster were calm, rational and reticent, the media was juvenile and emotionally manipulative.

This went beyond the obvious faults: the pointless demonstrations of mining equipment by Jack Tame on One News - what was the purpose of that, forty eight or seventy two hours after the initial blast?; the slick graphics that the TV news stations deployed to make their coverage look slick and sensational; or the dreadful, trite quality of some of the coverage, which saw one TV reporter referring to the miners as the "Prisoners of the mountain," for Heaven's sake.

The media, I feel, were attempting to manufacture a narrative around this tragedy, especially as the days passed, when reporters interviewed the family members of the missing miners.

Giving these greiving people air time was distasteful and manipulative. They should have been left alone. We don't need to be told that the families are incredibly distraught, and to have their misery paraded for our own vicarious emotional fix.

Even more of a concern was how the media gave scope to family members to criticize the rescue effort. By encouraging them to verbalize their dissatisfaction and their urge to get down into the mine, in spite of the official ban, they may have prompted some to make more of these plans than a desperate longing. Given what happened yesterday afternoon, this could have had terrible consequences; it would certainly have wasted time and diverted resources being directed towards the rescue.

It also encouraged the people to wonder if the rescue effort was on the wrong track, putting more pressure on the shoulders of men who were already contending with far more than could reasonably be asked of them.

Even on the morning of the second blast, family members were being interviewed and airtime being given to their criticism of the rescue effort, and their desire to simply get into the mine, without authorisation if necessary. That the families of the missing felt that way is no surprsie. Who wouldn't? But that the media gave them air time to express what should have been kept private, and acted to undermine and pressurize the men co-ordinating the rescue effort, was simply irresponsible, cynical and disgraceful.

The media should be ashamed of itself, and study the tremendous example of Peter Whittall, Gary Knowles, Tony Kokshoorn and the many others who showed how to confront a disaster properly, like men do.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

British polling

The record of the last ten days polling by various companies have given Labour a lead of between 1-5% in FIVE polls (1). Two are tied and only one shows a Tory lead of 2%.
DATE/CON/LAB/LIB DEM
21 Nov 36 38 14 Lab +2
19 Nov 37 38 13 Lab +1
19 Nov 40 38 11 Con +2
18 Nov 40 40 11 Tie
17 Nov 40 40 11 Tie
16 Nov 37 42 10 Lab +5
15 Nov 40 42 10 Lab +2
12 Nov 39 41 10 Lab +2
The UK Polling Report poll of polls puts Labour ahead by 2%, and predicts an outright Labour Majority of 10 seats.

Crikey, it took Labour 10 years, 2 wars, a recession and Gordon Brown to squander their populairty. The Tories have managed it just six months.

An endorsement of the superior efficiency of the freemarket ideology?
1 - As per UK Polling Report, viewed on 22nd of Novemeber, 2010. (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/)

Monday, 22 November 2010

Tough on crime, tough on those who deal with crime

Britain will see a reduction in police numbers by 6000, according to an analysis of the effect of the cuts.

This marks something of a change of tune (to put it mildly) for the Tories, for whom waiiling about feral youth, police men spending more time on paper work, and the whole Hell in a Handcart routine is bread and butter stuff:
Police numbers are likely to fall by a minimum of 6,000 this year because almost every police force in England and Wales has put a freeze on new recruits, according to research published today by the shadow home secretary, Ed Balls.

He said the research showed that 6,000 officers leave the force each year or take early retirement, and would now not be replaced by new recruits.

Policing minister Nick Herbert responded by saying there was no link between police numbers and crime levels. In remarks that startled Labour, he said: "I don't think anyone – and no respected academic – would make a simple link between the increase in police officers and what has happened to crime. There is no such link." (1)
What happened to getting more bobbies on the beat and controlling our unruly youth?

Note that they aren't falling back on the standard defences of "Labour's figures are wrong" or "We'll reduce bureaucracy so police can spend more time policing."

Doubtless, these platitudes have been, and will be, recited by David Cameron and his cabinet cronies. Nick Herbert needs to get 'on message,' though I suspect he's a bit closer to reality than Cameron. Sound bites are fine in opposition when you're in opposition, or a gurning figurehead. I suspect the luckless Mr Herbert is less keen to make promises he can't keep.

Meanwhile, the Indie commemorates the 10th anniversary of the death of 10 year old Damilola Taylor, stabbed in London. It describes the difficulties faced by the youth so easily demonsied by the Tories:
At the age of seven, Francisco Augusto's life was turned upside down when his friend and football teammate Damilola Taylor was killed. His death was followed by Francisco's parents splitting up and another move to a new school. Together these events filled the little boy with rage he didn't understand and couldn't control. He was excluded from school aged 11 and arrested by police within a year.
But ...
He could well have been on a path similar to that of the boys who killed Damilola. But he caught the attention of a local youth worker, Roger Jalil, himself only 22 at the time. Through playing football together, Roger became Francisco's confidant as he tried to make sense of Damilola's death, his worsening relationship with his father, and all the anger he couldn't articulate.

Last year Francisco passed 11 GCSEs at grade A to C and hopes to study sociology at university. He hopes to set up his own youth projects and is being mentored by two businessmen after taking an entrepreneurial course with London Youth – all inspired and encouraged by his youth worker. The love and respect between Francisco, 17, and Roger, 27, is uplifting.

"Whenever I remember Damilola, I always see him smiling and playing football," says the teenager. "Even though he was older than me he saw I was having a hard time at school after coming here from Angola, so he took me under his wing and got me playing football. And that's how Roger got me involved, playing football, treating me like his little brother until I started opening up to him.

"If it wasn't for Roger, the Adventure Playground and London Youth, I wouldn't be here now. If people in high society really wanted to stop youth crime then they could, by making sure every young person who needs help has someone like Roger to help them. Every year on the anniversary of Damilola's death I take some time and think about how I can do better the next year, and make his memory last even longer." (2)
I wonder how many youth workers and projects like Adventure Playground and London Youth will be getting cut in the ideologically motivated War on Debt?
1 - "Police recruiting freeze likely to shrink force by 6,000 this year, says Ed Balls," by Patrick Wintour. Published in The Guardian, 21st of November, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/21/police-numbers-to-drop-by-6000)
2 - "Remembering Damilola: The killing goes on, but the fightback is under way," by Andrew Johnson and Nina Lakhani(
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/remembering-damilola-the-killing-goes-on-but-the-fightback-is-under-way-2139882.html)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Pike River

Am I the only person finding the media coverage of the Pike River Mine disaster at best woefully inadequate, at worst pretty revolting?

Obviously, it's a terrible situation, and it needs to be reported, but the style of the coverage has been tabloid, prying into the private suffering and grief of the community. It's a sign of how relentlessly subjective the news media has become, when a disaster like this immediately becomes and excuse to present the rest of the population with images of grief and mental agony.

Several things have struck me as deeply off putting. Within hours of the initial explosion the NZ Herald had put up a (presumably old) NZPA story titled "NZ's worst mining accidents: Gas, explosions kill dozens," which seems a bit ghoulish and likely to cause confusion and distress - my initial reaction when I googled up the stroy was 'Fuck, they're all dead.' It took a few seconds for me to realise it was a catalogue of previous mining disasters. The shock and distress that someone more initmately connected with the missing miners would have experienced in those seconds can't really be imagined. It's a tasteless attempt to max out the drama and fill their ewebsite with 'relevant' content. never mind how tastless, stupid or repugnant.

(The NZ Herald has changed the headline slightly since then, dropping the reference to deaths - but the headline in its original form has been preserved on other sites mirroring or linking to the story (1).)

Oh, and Prince William sends his sympathies. As if anyone gave a fuck. Though obviously, it must be a tabloid wet dream to link the currently very news worthy Prince William with this crisis. You can almost imagine a news editor licking his or her lips when they heard about that. Royalty and a disaster - it's Google Search news - two hot search terms coming together in a blissful union.

Conversely, in other ways the media has offended me by its pussyfooting around the likely fate of the miners. They have continually refered to the miners as 'trapped' and after the resuce efforts were aborted on Saturday night due to the persistance of gas levels in the mine, we were told that the 'trapped' miners 'faced a second night underground.' The implication being, throughout the media coverage, that the miners are alive - a possibility, but an increasingly remote one.

Obviously, the media are gearing their coverage for another Chilean miracle. But it isn't the media's job to be continually optimistic in the face of disaster, or to construct a narrative, just to report. The fact is that there has been a substantial explosion underground, and only 2 miners have made it out. It is likely the air in the mine is poisonous, and it is unlikely that anyone can have survived down there for 48 hours.

As I understand it, the self saver devices they have would only have provided them with half an hour or so's respite, yet TVNZ reporter Jack Tame treated us to a pathetic demonstration of how the kits work, broadcast 24 hours after the initial explosion. What other resources may be available to them, I do not know, but the media has certainly not enlightened me. Instead, there's have too much prying into the private grief and anguish of the community.
1 - "NZ's worst mining accidents: Gas, explosions kill dozens - New Zealand Herald." This provides a link back tot he Herlad story, with the new version of the title. It looks like the article was actually written some time before. It's originally a NZPA piece. (http://latestbusinessreport.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=433903:nzs-worst-mining-accidents-gas-explosions-kill-dozens-new-zealand-herald&catid=38:topstories&Itemid=1)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

1 out of 285 ain't bad

So Ahmed Ghailani was found guilty on just one of the 285 terrorism related charges brought against him:
The first Guantanamo detainee tried in a US civilian court has been found guilty on just one out of 285 terror charges over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Africa.

Tanzanian Ahmed Ghailani, 36, was found guilty of conspiracy to damage or destroy US property with explosives.

But he was cleared of many other counts including murder and murder conspiracy.

Ghailani faces a minimum of 20 years in prison. The verdict comes as the US weighs other civilian terror trials.

The BBC's Iain Mackenzie, in Washington, says the verdict in the Ghailani case will be seen as a huge blow to the Obama administration. (1)
The man aided the commission of a terrorist act, he has been tried and found guilty in a reputable court of law, using evidence that wasn't coerced by torture. Unfounded charges have been thrown out, as they should have been.

The American justice system has reasserted its primacy after years of the political-military complex ruling by decree. Some vague adherence to the Geneva conventions has been established. Obama has again shown he's retained some shreds of principle and decency. A massive load of dung has been dragged out of the Augean stables.

We don't have to behave abominably, we choose to. And to some extent, it justifies the hatred and contempt entertained for the West. Of course, its a shame that this anger it gets visited on us, rather than our leaders who deserve it. But - as Ward churchill pointed out, we're all responsible to a degree - we get to choose our leaders, and we know this shit is going on, we just don't care much until our faces get shoved in it.

We buy easy lies and propaganda because it makes it easier for us to live in an unjust world where we're the beneficiaries. Palestinian refugees subsisting in Gaza and the West Bank while Isreal slowly engorges itself? Stuff 'em, there's a war on Terror afoot, didn't you notice? Never mind that the Plaestinian issue is one of the rankest examples of injustice which leads to hatred. Israel is our ally, surrounded by hostile regimes, blah blah blah ...

Obama's supposed blundering on this issue shows at least a willingness to try to behave according to some standard of decency. Shame the bar was set so fucking low by the last administration that even this seems like progress.

Obama has been - as always - in a very difficult position where he's had to balance his principled instinct with a bit of realpolitik. Probably, he's done too much of the latter, which achieves little positive and only harms his reputation, but he's still making some progress in an incredibly difficult situation. It would be too easy to excoriate him - as some on the left are wont to - for not being pure and unsullied. But it's nice living in a vague and fluffy place where principles don't even have to meet reality.
1 - "Ghailani guilty of one charge for 1998 US embassy bombs," unattributed article. Published by the BBC, 18th of November, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11782346)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Moral dilemma II

After spending a lot of time exploring my response to the case of Dr Sheila Matthews, a paediatrician who lost her job (as I understood it) after requesting to be excused passing judgement on homosexual couples seeking to adopt, it would seem that the version of the stroy reported by the BBC was not accurate.

According to the Telegraph, the sequence of events was not Matthews asking to be excused and them being sacked out-of-hand by her triggerhappy employer, as I had originally understood it. IN fact, quite the opposite:
Dr Matthews claims she was forced out of her job on the Northamptonshire Council Adoption Panel because of her Christian beliefs that children should be placed with a father and mother rather than a homosexual couple.

She resigned from her post in March after being barred from sitting on the adoption panel. (1)
A further Telegraph article, from 2009, further elucidates what really happened:
Dr Matthews, a paediatrician, will continue to examine potential adoptive parents for Northamptonshire County Council to ensure that they are medically fit.

But she will no longer have a say in whether the child should be adopted by the couple, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Dr Matthews, urged the council to see "further sense" and allow her to vote in cases involving heterosexual couples and abstain in the case of homosexuals.

Dr Matthews, 50, was removed from the panel earlier this month because her view was at odds with the council's equal opportunity policies.

.oO SNIP Oo.

For the last five years, Dr Matthews has examined prospective adoptive parents in Kettering and presented her findings to the council's two adoption panels, which then voted on suitability.

She had always abstained when it came to same sex couples but the Equality Act 2006 required all agencies to consider same-sex applicants on an equal basis with heterosexual couples.

When a homosexual couple applied to become adoptive parents in February, Dr Matthews told the council's head of children services that she would carry out the assessment but abstain from the vote.

She was subsequently told that she could not serve because of concerns about the law and efforts to "attract the widest possible range of suitable adopters". (2)
So Matthews was not sacked, she resigned, after being told she could not sit on the adoption panel.

The immediate impact of this new information is to diminish my sympathy for her considerably. I had previously understood it to be a case of conscience, where an employee had offered their employer a reasonable compromise, which had been spurned. Now, however, it appears that the employer was the one offering the compromise - you can continue to examine couples, but not vote on the panels - and the employee who spurned it.

Dilemma resolved.
1 - "Doctor asks Europe to rule on gay adoptions," by Martin, 15th of November, 2010. Evans. Published by The Telegraph. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/8132340/Doctor-asks-Europe-to-rule-on-gay-adoptions.html)
2 - "Christian doctor reinstated to adoption panel over homosexuality row," by Caroline Gammell. Published in the Telegrph, 27th of July, 2009. (
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5918465/Christian-doctor-reinstated-to-adoption-panel-over-homosexuality-row.html)

Breaking Harman's Law

The telegraph has reported that Theresa May will announce the dumping of the clause - the so-called Harman's Law - that required public bodies to work towards reducing economic inequality:
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will say today that the Government is axing the measure, which had been dubbed “socialism in one clause”.

A ‘socio-economic duty’ on public bodies was written into the Equality Act by the then-Equalities minister Harriet Harman earlier this year.

However the duty – dubbed “Harman’s Law” - was never enacted, and the Coalition had been reviewing the measure.

Ministers have now decided not to enact it and will look at ways to repeal the measure. (1)
I'm struggling to see what was so terrible about 'Harman's Law,' to be honest:
Education authorities would have had to encourage parents from poor backgrounds to apply for successful schools in their area.

Regional development agencies could also have changed criteria for grants so that bids from deprived areas were more likely to succeed. Health bodies would have had to spend some of their budget in areas with the worse health records.

Mrs May will warn that the measure could have meant public spending was “permanently” focused on deprived parts of the country.
I mean, fuck me, money being spent where it was needed and people being encouraged to aim high for their kids. Shocking stuff. Revolutionary. No wonder the we're going to Hell in a handcart.

Up goes the predictable response that this is the "Nanny state" at its worst, a phrase which has achieved the tiredness of "Political correctness" in record time. Both are trite shibboleths lobbed from the right at anything the lobber don't like to curtail the need for further argument or - heavens! - any further thinking on an issue.

Ne'er-the-less the underlying problems would appear to exist, not matter how the Mail or the Telegraph bay. Empty blather doesn't make problems go away.

Most opposition comes from a sort of reversed sense of grievance, the increasingly shrill squealing of the whiny aspirant middle-classes, who protest at the state spending THEIR taxes on the great unwashed herd of stinking proles and sub-proles while the while affluent areas simply have to stump up more and more and get nothing in return. Really? Apart from the obvious and concrete returns that more affluent areas get from the public purse, there are the (possibly more important) social benefits from targeting limited funds where they're needed.

May's claims about 'Harman's law' is just talking hysterical flap, a tabloid tinged bullcrapfest.

As for the wider points raised - the issues that prompted the law to be drafted in the first place - they haven't gone away. 'Harman's Law' was never intended to "solve a problem as complex as inequality in one legal clause" as May is quoted. It was intended to write into law the social obligation of public bodies, which is sane and sensible. Isn't that rather the point of public bodies?

If they're prime motivation is going to be economic, then why are they public institutions? They could be privatised and left to get on with it. In fact, if the state isn't going to concern itself with issues beyond the mere accruing of profits, why not privatise the whole state? We could all have a share, and instead of elections we could have AGMs where the new CEO could be chosen and a board elected.

I suspect the real reason for dumping Harman's Law is pragamtic - the years to come are going to see a lot of inequality, an d a lot of it will be driven by political ideology and laws emanating from the office currently heald by Ms May. The government, I suspect, is seeking to free itself from a tricky legal encumberance before it gets down to the real work in hand.
1 - "Theresa May axes Harman's Law," BY Christopher Hope. Published in The Telegraph, 17th of Novemeber, 2010. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/8138053/Theresa-May-axes-Harmans-Law.html)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Sweet baby Jesus wept

Just when it looked like the nuclear industry might successful reinvent itself as an unlikely Saviour Of Humanity from climate change, this comes along:
Organs and bones were illegally harvested from the bodies of dead nuclear industry workers at Sellafield without their consent over a period of 30 years, an inquiry found yesterday.

The relatives of 64 staff, many of whom only discovered their loved ones had been stripped of livers, tongues and even legs decades after they were buried, said the inquiry's findings proved the existence of an "old boys' club" among pathologists, coroners and scientists around Sellafield prior to 1992 which prioritised the needs of the nuclear industry above those of grieving family members.

In evidence to inquiry chairman Michael Redfern QC, who oversaw the Alder Hey inquiry, representatives of the workers said they felt as if bodies had been "mutilated" and treated as "commodities" to assist in research on behalf of the industry to disprove the link between cancers and radiation. (1)
Because that's going to work, isn't it?

"Look! We behaved in a shifty, downright illegal, insensitive, borderline sociopathic manner, you can trust our conclusions because we're obviously completely straight up and not at all the sort of people who, having behaved in a shifty, downright illegal, insensitive, borderline sociopathic manner to obtain the body parts of your loved ones, would then manipulate twist or misrepresent the results of our sick little secret experiment on you Morlocks, you can trust us.

"And while we're about it, you can trust us to save you all - at great profit to ourselves - from climate change. Honest. We're not at all dubious, self-serving and likely to be lying through our worthless glowing teeth."
1 - "How Sellafield 'mutilated' its workers' bodies," by Jonathan Brown. Published in the Independent, 17 November 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/how-sellafield-mutilated-its-workers-bodies-2136068.html)

Moral dilemma

I find myself - perhaps uncharacteristically - on the side of a Christian woman working for a Nottinghamshire county council's adoption panel, who requested to abstain from voting on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt (1).

I don't support her stance - that being adopted by gay parents is not in the best interest of the child - and I don't support her justification of that stance on religious grounds. But I do support her right to behave in accordance with her conscience, and I think her dismissal was probably not justified by her request to be excused having to vote on these cases.

It's a very tricky area where matters of conscience are involved, but for me the crucial issue is that she asked to be allowed to abstain, rather than choosing to vote against gay couples seeking to adopt. She did not actively discriminate against people, the whole point was that she didn't want to be put in a situation where she would. Presumably, she could have said nothing and voted against it, claiming some spurious pretext.

We accept - generally - matters of conscience in other areas, the usual example being chemists with the morning after pill. In this case, it looks like she has been sacked for being honest and having an opinion, which isn't really fair. She merely asked to be relieved of being placed in a position where her conscience conflicted with her duties. Sacking her, rather than simply accepting her exemption, seems an extreme response.

The obvious counter argument would be that if the situation was changed, and she was refusing to perform her job because of racial or sexual prejudice, then it would be unacceptable. Quite. I did say, earlier on, that it was tricky. A line has to be drawn somewhere, and I certainly wouldn't approve of some vehement racist voting against something because of their bigotry. but she didn't do that, of course. She asked to be excused from voting.

A person should always be answerable to their conscience first.

Imagine the situation was reversed, and she was refusing to vote against a gay adoption because of her convictions. Then you'd be calling her a hero. You condemnation is predicated on her failure to conform to your perception of what is the right thing to do, just as you approval of her action in different circumstances would be based on her conforming to them, not a fundamental principle. It's shallow, expedient reasoning, that legitimizes as much terrible 'just doing me job' type behaviour as it condemns.

Ultimately, she lost her case, but this was probably because it was presented as an instance of religious discrimination. The tribunal ruled merely found there was no basis for a claim of religious discrimination. I think she's still got grounds for claiming unfair dismissal.
1 - "Christian advisor loses gay adoption case tribunal," unattributed report. Published by the BBC, 16th of Novemeber, 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-11769358)

Daily Mail indulges in a bit of gratuitous scaremongering

Going by the headline of a Daily Mail story - Westminster on Mumbai-style terror attack alert after Al Qaeda threat - you'd be forgiven for thinking that it concerned some specific threat against Westminster (1).

In fact, for all its frothing, the 'news' content of the story amounts tot he shocking revelation that the British parliament has a contingency plan for responding to an armed assault.

There has been no specific threat, or suspicion of such an event happening, as the Mail grudgingly admits in the final lines:
A House of Commons spokesman said: ‘We have contingency plans to cover a range of emergencies, of which this [an armed raid] is one. It does not relate to a specific threat.’
In other words, not really a news story at all, just a typical bit of Daily Mail tub thump to encourage us to feel scared and suspicious.

We have ALWAYS been at war with Oceania.
1 - "Westminster on Mumbai-style terror attack alert after Al Qaeda threat," by Gerri Peev. Published in the Daily Mail, 16th of November, 2010. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1330066/Westminster-Mumbai-style-terror-attack-alert-Al-Qaeda-threat.html#ixzz15TVIJ1hP)

Whoopedie

William Windsor is going to marry Kate Middleton (1).

I'm willing to be the republican scape goat for the righteous royalist wrath that will be aimed at scornful republicans who dare to voice an opinion that doesn't chime with the new Patriotic Correctness and refuse to acknowledge the imminent nuptials as not just a Good Thing, which they are - for the persons concerned, and that doesn't mean us - but an Important Thing, which they aren't.

Why are we excited about the news a decayed line aristocrats announcing their intention of perpetuating their line?

I feel for Kate, who seems like a nice girl, who could have made something of herself. Marrying a chronic benefits scrounger like Willie Windsor is nothing to brag about. The man's been sucking on the tit of the state all his life. Cut his benefits and force him to get a job.

Yes, I know he has a 'real' job flying a helicopter. I was being ironic. I'm sure his day job has nothing to do with his family. I mean, what's the point of being royal if you have to succeed on your own merit? Rather misses the point ...

If the media keeps things within the bounds of good taste, I'll say no more, because they actually seem like nice enough people, and I don't want to partake of the petulant streak that seems to inform a lot of Republicans. Yeah, I know I just called him a benefit scrounger. So he is. He's had more public money lavished on him than half the legion of 'scroungers' berated by the Daily Mail have enjoyed, collectively.

(Don't quote me on that, I just made the statistic up)

Have received a lot of public money doesn't make him a bad person, of course - any more than receiving benefits makes a beneficiary a bad person. But it does illustrate the strange divergence in conservative thought, where lavishing money on the scion of a Beloved National Institution (which already has plenty)is a good thing, but providing people with the means to survive (as opposed to providing them with the means to work) is a Bad Thing.

But, apart from then, i hope William and Kate are happy, because the world doesn't need more misery. But anyone getting excited about their marriage needs to grow up, excessively.
1 - 'Prince William and Kate Middleton engagement announced,' by Stephen Bates and James Meikle. Published in the Guardian, 16th of November, 2010. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/16/prince-william-kate-middleton-engagement)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Free at last, et cetera

The release (1) of Aung San Suu Kyi is, of course, to be welcomed. It would have been nice, however, if New Zealand could take pride of place among the nations celebrating it. Since we decided we're okay with useful trade links (2) with a bunch of militaristic despots with scant regard for human rights (3) however, if we're invited to the party at all, it's going to reflect on the remarkable generosity of our host, not on our worthiness.

Of course, we can redeem ourselves by ensuring we're leading the campaign for the release of Liu Xiaobo, nobel prize winner, currently detained by the despots in Beijing. Oh, wait, i see we cut a trade deal with them as well ...
1 - "Aung San Suu Kyi Gains Freedom & Challenges Regime," by Richard S. Ehrlich. Published by Scoop,.co.nz, 16th of November, 2010. (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1011/S00130/aung-san-suu-kyi-gains-freedom-challenges-regime.htm)
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2008/08/is-is-most-unfair.html
3 - As described previously on lefthandpalm:
http://lefthandpalm.blogspot.com/2009/08/aung-san-suu-kyi-guilty.html

Rugby

As an expat Scot living in New Zealand, I was neither upset, nor surprised at Scotland's humbling by the All Blacks. Unlike some of my brethren back in Caledonia - who actually seemed to think that Scotland might be in with a chance - I expected a fairly devastating display. Scotland are, after all, a second division nation. they might be able to claim to be in the Top 10, but that's only because of the lack of depth in international rugby. If you're not one of the Big 4, you're no-one.

Watching the All Blacks play here, familiarity breeds respect. Not love, mark you. I don't like the arrogance of new Zealanders, and I don't like the style of rugby the All Blacks play, based around some over developed freak busting straight through and galumphing as fast as possible straight down the paddock. They've never really recovered from Jonah Lomu.

This isn't just spite. I remember a match in the last World Cup, where the All Blacks beat Scotland by a similar margin to the current result. It was actually a good match to watch, because almost the whole match was played inside Scotland's 22, and the AB sprint queens didn't really have a lot to do - it was forward on forward action almost all the way.

It's opportunistic rugby, relying on big, strong individuals bursting through the defence and dashing for the try line. You might see the occasional pass, where one of the slower players off loads to one of the flyboys - but as often as not, they'll simply barge on, relying on their physical superiority to carry them through.

the result of this - perhaps an inevitable evolution - has been the merging of the beautiful diversity of rugby teams in a series of interchangeable he-men. Modern rugby's basically a combination of the old style forward and back play - big strong backs who can get the ball, break tackles and run. oddly, it means the matches are much more mediocre and uninteresting to watch as it's all based around big bloke banging into big bloke and which ever one is still on their feet afterwards cantering off with the ball to score. Unedifying, and it means the perfect game, which had a place for everyone, no matter how oddly designed (I present Jeff Probyn as evidence of this truth), is becoming a banging match between physically impressive but identikit specimens of humanity. Used to be a pageant of humanity in all its male) forms - big louts, wee bastards, tall skinny weirdos, everyone. And it was all fields round 'ere, and kids gave their elders some respect.

Of course, the All Black formula is hideously successful, though that depends on how you define success. If by 'success' you mean winning lots of matches and trophies and relying on chauvinistic pride in winning to counter the deadening effects of playing a dull style of rugby, then yeah, the All Blacks are successful. On the other hand, if success means playing rugby in the manner that people will enjoy watching, which will ensure big crowds and TV revenue, encourage people to play the sport and will ensure its long term viability, then I suspect they aren't.

Inspite of the horribly one-sided result, I was impressed by Scotland's performance. They played very good, open rugby, they were just up against a team that was massively better than them in almost every department - the exception being the line-out, where Scotland seemed to perform pretty well, which may have been something of a novelty. Based on this performance, I think Scotland can expect to compete against any of the Six Nation teams, instead of just Italy.

I don't see them ever being competitive against the All Blacks, however, unless they can actually play them as frequently as the likes of Australia and South Africa do. I don't think it's a coincidence that the teams that can beat the All Blacks are the ones that play them most often. The northern hemisphere teams are simply not used to the style of rugby played down here. Scotland, being a minor northern nation - making up for its paltry resources with wit and grit - simply can't contain the physical exuberance of the All Blacks. It isn't rugby as they know it.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Even a stopped clock ...

I don't know if John Key really did describe the resignation of Pansy Wong as a 'tragedy,' as I heard mention in casual conversation. The context in which I heard it was taken as meaning he felt it was sad a corrupt minister has been found out and forced out of office. Perhaps that's what he really does think, under the smooth charm.

But, if Key did say it, regardless of the sense he intended, he's right. What has befalled Pansy Wong is a tragedy, the Shakespearean sense, where a character who has some admirable qualities is undone by some intrinsic flaw in their nature.

Alas, I don't think the arrogant presumption that brought Wong down is limited to her. I think it is rife in our political players, and this tragedy will have many more acts, and a bewildering range characters vying to be the protagonist. It's an unedifying spectacle, and should be booed from the boards.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wellington

I was in Wellington at the weekend. I don't get there as often as I'd like, but this weekend was my nephew's first birthday. Well - pedantry alert - it was really the first anniversary of his birthday. But you know what I mean.

It was, overall, quite an odd experience, like being trapped inside a bad play. Most of the action took place in two bland sets - a cheap motel room in Lower Hutt and a new townhouse clinging to a hillside at the back end of Johnsonville. The dialogue was banal and repetitive and the characters were neither interesting or believable - a rare feat in literature, as characters that are not unbelieveably interesting are usually realistically dull. The point of it all escaped me, and seemed to have escaped the director and cast as well, as they loafed through their scenes without any clear purpose. But that's my life for you ...

Houses interest me in odd ways. As a record of social processes in action, they're hard to beat. The house I'm sitting in just now in an ex-state house, built to the highest specifications in the 1940s, when socialist ideas were more fashionable and the idea that the working classes should have access to good, robust housing wasn't a bad joke. Oddly, of course, it was built during a recession and a war, which makes one wonder at the current fad for austerity.

My brother-and-sister-in-law's house, on the other hand, is a modern townhouse, built on a steep hillside. You go in at the top, and go downstairs to the tiny patch of garden (my house has a decent sized section, in accordance with the 'garden city' ethos that infused the old state house developments). The lawn is a small rectangle of grass, but it is over shadowed by the fences around it, the other houses crowding about, and the small deck, which is boosted up to the level of the main floor of the house on two stalwart columns.

The house itself doesn't rest on a knuckle of rock like a house I used to live in up in Auckland, but clings, snail like, to the hillside, supported by a generous dollop of concrete at the bottom. I'm no structural engineer, but the who thing looked a bit precarious and rather un-thought through, especially for a city awaiting a major earthquake. In fairness, the property looked a lot more securely moored than the ones I spotted across the valley, which seemed t be built entirely on stilts.

What the development reminded me of, oddly, was those hideous Eastern European Brutalist housing developments - the cramped apartments, each with their own tiny balcony, sandwiched together into a massive wall of concrete and glass, a material expression of communist ideology and conformity. Well, that attitude exists in New Zealand, in those Johnsonville developments, with their tiny token decks and tissue sized token patches of lawn, crammed together onto barely viable land.

(For the record, I'm actually quite a fan of Brutalist architecture, and one of the Palmerston North council building's few fans; but even I recognise you can have too much of a good thing)

Note, though, there's one difference between these houses and the Eastern European concrete jungles, or the old state house developments. The latter, of course, were designed to house the working classes, make affordable housing available for them. he growing Wellington suburbs - with few parks, playgrounds, shops or other amenities and connected to the rest of the city by narrow roads that are too steep for cycling or walking, and poorly served by public transport.

They're designed with the aspiring middle classes in mind. That's why they have all the features that the middle classes think they need in a house - the deck, the lawn, never mind that they're not worth boasting about. The houses are big enough to put themselves out of the reach of working class families and - probably - most middle class families on one income. As I said, without a car - or two - they're almost unlivable, as they're remote, cut off, and inaccessible by any means other than an internal combustion engine. Though you'll struggle to find parking for said engine. When we were there, the narrow street was almost blocked by parked cars - and they had completely colonised the pavements, so if you did want to walk somewhere, you had to traverse your neighbour's properties.

They're an exercise in social engineering, as blatant as my old state house development, but informed by radically different values. This is concrete realisation of the profit motive in housing - the highest concentration of high value buyers, on land that no sane person would build on, authorised by a council interested in squeezing the highest quantity of rate payers possible into the least space.

Coalition scorecard

Haven't been updating this for a while, mostly because I've been busy and becuase, after 6 months, it is pretty obvious where this government is going. from a high of +8 to -1 in six months is quite impressive.

Still, the last few weeks have seen the unmitigated disasters of the conmprehensive Spending review and Iain Duncan Smith's benefit 'reforms.' So I'm lopping another -1 off to reflect these developments. It could have been more, but I'd previously taken 3 points off when the scale of the cuts had been outlined.
-1 ... George Osbourn's comprehensive spending review exceeds expectations of wrongheaded horribleness.
OVERALL: -2/10. After the initial surge of Good Ideas and interesting tweaks, the coalition is plunging into depths of hideousness from which it isn't likely to emerge.

The tragedy is that the good stuff has generally been stuff which is nice but not essential, for people's day to day lives and the economic recovery. But where they've gone wrong has been in the areas which will affect people's lives.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Mid term elections haiku

Tea Party flower
Soon to wilt in summer heat.
O's a cactus.

Or, in a slightly longer form:

The mid term election results are probably meaningless. In fact, they might work out to Obama's advantage.

With the Congress in the hands of the Republicans, Obama has an excuse for not pressing ahead with his agenda. He's already accomplished more than most presidents have in terms of domestic reforms. If the economy worsens, he no longer has to bear the responsibility for it - he can protest - quite rightly - that congress is styming his attempts to respond to the crisis. It's not exactly idea, but it'll probably set the stage for a more productive second term.

Further, the Tea Party's advance will probably count against it. It's not likely that the majority of sane Republicans, and the entrenched good Ole Boys who represent them on the Hill, want the Tea Party freak show to colonise their party. So the emphasis will shift from Republicans versus Democrats to moderate Republicans versus insane Tea Party loons. Obama will probably enjoy a bit of a respite, while the right wastes its time and energy ripping bloody great chunks out of itself.

(Obviously, this won't happen immediately. there will be lots of talk about unity - always amusing in a party that advocates individualism - and the shared agendum that unites them. But anyone can say nice things. Remember "Change we can believe in"? "Read my lips"? "Bring it on"? They'll be at each others throats in six months or so.)

Ideally for Obama, of course, the Tea Party wins the civil war, and he has to face a Tea Party candidate in two years time. That should ensure him a second term. This is probably not going to happen, however, as in two years time the Tea Party will be a spent force - the 'new broom' schtick will have worn out, and the disconnect between their grassy rhetoric and their sold out actions will have become clear. A centrist canidate - imagine a younger, less brutalised and more energised John McCain (without the Sarah Palin add on) - might present more of a problem. But if things are starting to look a bit better economically in a couple of years time, and once people realsie that the Iraq nightmare is (officially) over, then Obama should be comfortably re-elected on a 'Let's finish the job' ticket.

Maybe.

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...