“My Subtle Variant of the Fairy Tale Is Truer Than Yours”

March 31, 2008 at 9:01 pm | Posted in The God Delusion | 1 Comment
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Gentlemen, start your engines: it turns out there are now more Muslims in the world than Roman Catholics.

I’m sure there’s some Code of Ethical Blogging constructed by a committee of the finest bloglords on the planet that instructs against quoting other people’s blog entries in full, but when the snark is this good, I feel compelled to act otherwise.

Via Reuters: The global population of misogynist cultists labeled “Muslim” have, at 19.2%, edged out longtime frontrunners the Roman Catholics (now just 17.4%) in the perennial struggle for world domination in the high-stakes My Subtle Variant of the Fairy Tale Is Truer Than Yours competition. What’s the secret of their success? Let’s ask Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, pointy-headed Vatican spokesbag:

“It is true that while Muslim families, as is well known, continue to make a lot of children, Christian ones on the contrary tend to have fewer and fewer.” [Source]

Clearly Catholic women are choosing to make the Virgin Mary cry in ever-increasing numbers. If the Catholics are to regain the pennant, they’re going to have to tighten up control of their uteruses.

But don’t go booking your victory dinner at Jean Georges just yet, Muslims! At a whopping 33%, Generic Christians — a loosely-connected super-sect comprised of all cults that advocate women’s oppression while employing the personal concierge services of the ghost of a dead Nazarene on a stick — still appease their vengeful male God in the greatest numbers overall, thus retaining the title on a technicality.

To atone for my sins, I insist you visit here and click on everything.

Update: This should be a parody but isn’t. John Gibson on the explosion of non-white children: White Ladies, Make More Babies

Feminism’s large wardrobe

March 31, 2008 at 8:14 pm | Posted in Feminisms | 4 Comments
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Ah, the benefits of dithering. I’d intended to respond to Ruth Fowler’s recent piece by commenting that “whilst it works well as an honest, human, witty and well-written memoir/book plug, as a piece of social/political commentary, it’s hopelessly flawed.” Thankfully, events stopped me from posting and I had the chance to read the piece again, in addition to Fowler’s comments in the inhumane eye-scratching arena that is Comment is Free. Instead of the rather clunky, apathy-addled critique of feminism I first suspected, it’s actually more of a reflection on identity, the limits of political engagement and her perception of the problems feminists have in making their values more appealing to modern women.

I have much less to disagree with on the second reading, but there’s still an interesting point in there that should be discussed.

Leaving aside her obvious and perhaps understandable disdain for the dry, pious, intellectual forms of feminism you’ll find in our universities, her main critique is that the complexities and contraditions within its discourse have obscured & confused what it means call oneself a Feminist:

“Working Feminism” became distorted by lipstick lesbianism, got tangled up with sexual liberation, became only a little about the right to vote, educational equality, non-discrimination in the workplace. It became marred by the numbers of women in the western-educated world who didn’t choose to become doctors and scientists and engineers and lawyers, so then we had to find a way to make the stay-at-home mum a feminist too, as well as the Page 3 girl, and the High Class Prostitute, and the crack addict on the corner.

We claimed to have earned the right to spawn kids or remain barren and channel maternal energies into our careers. We could write about our promiscuous behaviour as evidence of our liberation, or declare we’re sick of men and strap on the chastity belt for the foreseeable future. If someone denigrated our choices, we could play the gender inequality card. Because we didn’t really have a cause as women, we struggled to define one, holding up Katie Price as a shining light of female empowerment one day, exposing Jordan as a brainless slut the next.

I think this is true to an extent, but I’d argue that such contradictions speak of a diversity & inclusivity that is actually positive for the feminist movement. The days when a woman was tarred with ‘betraying the sisterhood’ or ‘exhibiting false consciousness’ for thinking or acting outside the orthodoxy are thankfully receding. Also this plurality of different approaches means there is no longer any one ‘feminism’, but a large wardrobe of ‘feminisms’, reflecting that women don’t all act the same or think the same, but still share the same core values of equality.

To explain what I mean, let’s make a little list of statements on gender issues:

Women should be paid the same as a man doing the same job; women should have unfettered reproductive freedom; contraception should be widely available; rape and domestic violence are heinous crimes that go under-reported and under-punished; sexual harrassment and sexual discrimination are grevious abuses of power that should be punished accordingly; misogyny & sexism in our culture should be opposed whether is comes from rappers, writers or newsreaders.

If you agree with any or all of these statements, you are, like it or not, subscribing to certain Feminisms and whether or not you wish to walk up to the next person you meet and declare ‘I am a feminist’ is largely irrellevant.

In the grand scheme of things, these side-skirmishes in the culture wars are little more than distractions and whether your feminisms manifest themselves by supporting stripping as ‘liberating’ or condemning it as ‘grotesque objectification’, on the most serious issues, the two sides often find consensus.

By arguing over and campaigning for susbstantive causes rather than bickering over the modern meaning of a word or social identity, you make women’s causes far more appealing than you would by either trying to demolish or resurrect that word. By making these issues more appealing, and by winning more people over, the better chance you have of achieving your political goals. And if, in Ruth’s case, your audience remains unconvinced, that probably means you haven’t found a winning argument yet.

Photo: Flickr user chebbs (Creative Commons)

A unified scene

March 31, 2008 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | 1 Comment
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The Hold Steady 

Over at Popmatters, Eric Zimmerman goes on a road trip stalking The Hold Steady and muses about whether technology has stubbed-out the social function of rock’n’roll:

Technology has changed everything. Because the internet has replaced mainstream radio as a distribution medium, artists do not have to tailor their sound to a broad audience to get heard. The result is that artists no longer need to try to appeal to as broad a cross-section of fans through a broad range of influences. This has its benefits when it comes to artistic diversity. Many experimental indie bands have produced beautiful, aesthetically rich work. But what is lost is the unifying, social function of rock. As David Brooks wrote in this New York Times editorial from November 11, 2007, rock music used to serve as a “countervailing force” to commercial and social fragmentation.

[...] 

If the indie scene is segmented, the Hold Steady represents a reintegration. They aspire for a musical common ground, a sound that can appeal to a broad cross section of indie and mainstream fans. “I always dream about a unified scene,” lead singer Craig Finn cries on “Sweet Payne”, from Almost Killed Me. And as I find out in my travels with the band, a Hold Steady tour is a search for that scene, both musically and socially. 

Attempting to unite egalitarian social values with a simple belief in the emotional power of music, the band fosters a sustained, mutual affection with their fans. They believe not only in the aesthetic beauty of popular music, but also in its social and redemptive potential, qualities, which are highlighted on tour. In short, they are on a crusade to put the “rock” back in indie rock. But that’s going to be easier said than done.

He overplays the extent to which the ‘indie scene’ has fragmented into people just listening to MP3s in their bedrooms, particularly at a time when live music is flourishing, but he’s correct that a great deal of modern indie music promotes form over feeling, aesthetic values over social and emotional ones. There’s value to both, of course, but my favourite artists have always managed to achieve a synthesis of the two.

Photo by Flickr user falcon170ct (Creative Commons)

Update: Here’s the band live in their home town of Minneapolis

Overheard conversations: phallus edition

March 31, 2008 at 9:30 am | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
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“I used to really hate my step-dad but now I just think he’s, he’s…”

“A bit of a dick?”

“No, no, I just think he’s… a bit of a knob really.”

Mood music

March 31, 2008 at 7:10 am | Posted in Distractions, Music, Art, Etcetera | Leave a comment
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This just about sums it up:

 

Beautiful day though.

The Shins

Conservatism made easy

March 28, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

How to write a conservative article about education:

Redeeming features of higher education today are limited to: College Republicans; high-profile student-led attempts to return to a world of chivalrous dating, complete with trips to the drugstore for a 5-cent milkshake; low enrollment for a postcolonial studies class. If you see none of these things, then you need not provide a counterargument praising American universities. That students worldwide wish to study here is not, definitely not, an argument for higher ed being not so bad actually. It is, however, an argument about America being, to paraphrase Borat, greatest country in the world.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Sweet dreams

March 28, 2008 at 10:39 am | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
Quantum Sleeper

Via Wonkette, who suggest that buying one of these might be the only way to avoid the Barack n’ Hillary deathmatch.

I don’t think I’ll bother buying one; knowing my luck, the only time I’m rocked by a bio-chemical attack will be when I’m out at the supermarket.

Asylum: Peers in revolt

March 28, 2008 at 10:08 am | Posted in Asylum, British Politics | Leave a comment
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The case of Mehdi Kazemi and the general ill-treatment of asylum seekers in Britain seems to be provoking something more substantial than a few disgruntled grumbles. From the Independent:

Britain must radically change its immigration policy and end immediately the deportation of failed asylum-seekers who fear persecution in Iran, a group of leading peers will tell the Government today.

The call for a moratorium on asylum removals is a direct response to the plight of Mehdi Kazemi, a gay Iranian teenager facing execution if he returns to Iran, whose case has been taken up by The Independent.

In a letter written to this newspaper, 17 members of the House of Lords say the case of Mr Kazemi demonstrates a change of policy is now the “only moral course” for the Government to follow.

And in a stark warning on capital punishment in Iran, the Lords report that, in January alone, more than 30 prisoners were executed for a range of offences deemed criminal by the Middle East state.

Good for them. Interesting that it’s the Lords who are leading the charge on this case; perhaps being less susceptible to pressure from the anti-asylum press means they’re freer to act on matters of conscience.

A silver anniversary, of sorts

March 28, 2008 at 9:03 am | Posted in British Politics, Working Class Britain | Leave a comment
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25 years ago today, Ian MacGregor was named chairman of the National Coal Board.

I’m sure I would’ve felt differently had I been an adult 25 years ago, but with hindsight you could hardly fault the man for being good at his job. In decimating the mining population, MacGregor was only responsible for ruthlessly executing the will of Thatcher’s government. He wasn’t responsible for the picket line brutality of the police, the vilification of striking miners or the savaging of union rights. Nor was he responsible for the most heinous act of all: the failure to provide redundant miners with any adjustment programmes or job training schemes to help these overwhelmingly unskilled, manual workers learn the skills they’d need to find themselves another job.

The ultimate blame for these acts of governmental negligence and malevolence lies with Thatcher and her government, and shouldn’t extend too far beyond that.

Seamus Milne’s Lord’s Prayer

March 27, 2008 at 10:06 pm | Posted in The God Delusion, What's left? | 1 Comment
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Now, this puts me in something of a predicament: either I’m too young, naive & drunk on the self-serving service of capitalism to know any better, or Seumas Milne is a paranoid left-wing dilettante who clumsily casts all those with whom he disagrees as badge-wearing advocates of corporatism, neo-conservatism and… well, general degeneracy.

Oh Neil, show some restraint,’ a voice pleads. ‘Aren’t you being a bit rash to judge such a faithful comrade? Does he really deserve such wordy condemnation?‘ Perhaps/perhaps not, but I’m working on the theory that if all educated people find at least five minutes in their days to ridicule those who, without irony, use the absurd formulation of ‘militant atheists/secularists’, perhaps they’ll only ever use it in those obscure journals that never make it further north than Cambridge (sorry Southerners – you’re on your own).

With their cordouroy jackets and open-necked shirts, their esteemed teaching positions and speeches to lecture halls filled with grad students – speeches that advocate evolution, scientific inquiry, democracy, free speech and the rights of women and gays – there is absolutely no way an unprejudiced, straight-thinking person could class Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens’ atheism as ‘militant’. Forthright and uncompromising? Certainly. Groaning under an internal self-logic that hasn’t won over as many people as their sales figures suggest? Without doubt. But ‘militant’? Abu Hamza militant? Jerry Falwell militant? Louis Farrakhan militant? No. You can only peg these people as spite-spewing venomistas if your intellectual allergies are so strong that you can only digest things you already find agreeable.

Anyway, I should get on to the substance of the matter, for Milne is nothing without substance:

Panicked by the rise of radical Islamism and the newly assertive religious identity of migrant communities in a secular Europe, the anti-religious evangelists are increasingly using atheism as a banner for the defence of the global liberal capitalist order and the wars fought since 2001 to assert its dominance. At the same time, they are unable to recognise the ethnic dimension of their Islamophobia, let alone the deeper reasons why people continue to search for spiritual meaning in a grossly destructive economic environment where social alternatives have been pronounced dead and narcissistic consumption is king.

Welcome to today’s straw men: the anti-religious evangelists whose Islamophobia is not just based on religion but on ethnicity, and who are willing to piggy-back on every one of Dick Cheney’s cruise missiles until those backwards, Qu’ran-bashing bastards either reads some John Stuart Mill or does some internet shopping. Is this an accurate characterisation of any real person? Erm, probably not.

But enough with the straw men. Did you know that religion is now totally left-wing?

Religion cannot but now find itself in conflict with the unfettered rule of money – a capitalism that seeks to dominate exactly the social and personal arena which religion has always regarded as its own preserve. And as it becomes less useful as an ideological prop for power, religion’s more radical and anti-establishment strains have become stronger. 

[...]

No wonder the medieval church tried so hard to prevent people reading such incendiary stuff in their own language. But similar demands for equality and social justice can of course also be found in Judaism (“you shall not oppress a stranger”), Islam (“a white has no superiority over a black nor a black over a white”), and other religions.

Yes, terrific. But you can find that stuff in Marx, too. And in Star Trek, for that matter.

Just as the French republican tradition of liberation came to be used as a stick to beat Muslims in a completely different social context from which it emerged, so the militant secularists who fetishise metaphysics and cosmology as a reason to declare the religious beyond the liberal pale are now ending up as apologists for western supremacism and violence. Like nationalism, religion can play a reactionary or a progressive role, and the struggle is now within it, not against it. For the future, it can be an ally of radical change.

And so the balkinisation of the left continues: the atheists in the anti-war left should align with the religious in the anti-war left to do battle against the atheists in the pro-war left, the religious in the pro-war left and everyone on the pro-war right. You’d better not have any plans for the weekend. I understand that factionalism is rife on the left & forever will be, but I look at the columnists and bloggers writing today and think not only are they re-fighting the battles of 2003; they’re re-fighting the battles of the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s as well.

I opposed the liberation of Iraq but always hoped I would be proved wrong. I know the threat posed by Islamic extremism but remain vigilant against racist Islamophobia, and reject the idea that multiculturalism is a failure that should be abandoned. Lastly, I am an ex-Church of England alter boy turned atheist who hates any political intervention made by religious groups but will never tell my mother that my late brother probably didn’t go to heaven when he died.

In the current climate, there doesn’t appear to be any Left for me, so I’ll just have to make my own…

Update: Norm wrote far fewer words about this article, but wrote them far better:

What is the instruction that is to be had from this? It’s something indirect. Milne here sets himself up as a spokesman for putatively progressive strands within religion. Liberals and leftists who spend their time badmouthing religion and the religious in general should take note. His ‘progressivism’ is of the spurious Guardianista type that finds itself able to ‘understand’ the most reactionary movements and the most murderous methods as being merely symptoms of justified grievance and legitimate aspiration. Atheists and humanists of the liberal-left who try to defend its more authentic values should not concede this terrain – the terrain of working and talking together with people of all faiths who share similar values – to the Seumas Milnes of this world. It is a mistake that has been made too often before, conceding concepts, values and practical initiatives which are important to the representatives of political reaction.

No kindness for strangers

March 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Posted in Asylum, British Politics, New Labour | 1 Comment
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As someone who believes this country’s ‘Greatness’ depends upon its deeds rather than its outdated symbols, the way we treat asylum seekers makes me pretty ashamed to be British. I didn’t need a report to tell me that our treatment borders on barbaric, but the Independent Asylum Commission’s report (PDF) still makes useful - if incredibly depressing – reading. From the BBC:

The commissioners said policymakers were at times using “indefensible” threats of destitution to try to force some asylum seekers to leave the UK.

Another commission member, Lord Ramsbotham, a former chief inspector of prisons, told the BBC that officials considering asylum claims often had a poor understanding of an individual’s circumstances. “We are concerned at the level of the treatment of children, the treatment of women, the treatment of those with health needs, particularly mental health needs, torture survivors.”

How about some specifics?

Afshin, who is originally from Iran, spoke to the Independent Asylum Commission about his experiences in the UK, where he has lived for the past 12 years. He says he waited five years for a decision on his case – a refusal. “If someone would tell an Iranian that in a Western country they treat you like this, they wouldn’t believe you – because they think there is so much humanity there because we have such a brutal government.”

[...]

Shoherah Muhummad, originally from Somalia, gave evidence to the commission in Leeds. She says she struggled to get adequate legal representation to help her to prepare her case before asylum assessors. “I was running around not knowing where I was going. The only thing that has been going through my head was why did I come to the UK – I made a very big mistake.”

I discovered more horror stories whilst researching the case of gay Iranian Mehdi Kazemi. These are from international human rights organisation the EveryOne Group:

In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian asylum seeker, died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself on fire in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after his asylum claim was refused (in the lower and appeal court) and his deportation to Iran, where he would-have-been hanged, had been arranged.

[...]

Burhan Namig, born in 1980, was deported on September 5th 2006 from the United Kingdom – where his asylum claim had been refused because “not at sea” – to Kurdistan, despite falling into a deep depression and attempting suicide. On arrival in Kurdistan, Burhan had a heart attack, as a result of the inhuman treatment received in a British detention centre.

[...]

In February 2007, at least two Iraqi Kurds were deported in secret from United Kingdom to the North of Iraq on a military plane carrying medicines and other humanitarian supplies, this despite the ongoing violence in Iraq, after American military actions, and despite the Kurdish region in Northern Iraq being subject to continuous terrorist attacks and serious human rights abuses.

[...]

The latest case is that of Ama Sumani, a 39-year-old Ghanaian woman, studying in the UK, who was diagnosed with a malignant tumour that couldn’t be treated in Ghanaian hospitals. Her asylum claim was refused by the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and the woman was removed, against her will, on January 9th 2008, from University Hospital, Cardiff, in a wheelchair, and repatriated. According to the Home Office, this was all carried out with “politeness and dignity”.

These indignities exist because the Blair & Brown governments surrendered any semblance of a humane asylum policy to the conservative press and their desperate-to-please Parliamentary allies. Beseiged by the hysterical shrieks of the usual suspects, Labour swore to slash the number of asylum seekers and soon deployed the same statistical gimmickry we see in the NHS & education to prove they’d been successful.

But when you treat each applicant as a statistic, the odds are inevitably against them because the person hearing their case is motivated to keep the statistics low. This is how some of these desperate, terrified people end up being deported regardless of fears or even an honest acknowledgement of the kinds of regimes we’re dumping them back in. That’s a lot of suffering just to kill a few bad headlines.

Those good old British manners

March 27, 2008 at 11:13 am | Posted in Misc. | 1 Comment

Ariel Leve:

A few months ago I received a letter. “Dear Ms Leve,” it began. “Would you please be so kind as to ask your editor to remove your photograph from appearing with the column you write? It is the first thing I see on a Sunday morning when I am eating breakfast and it is making me sick.” I love that this was posed as a request. It continued. “It has to be said that it looks as though you fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” I’m not sure why that had to be said. But the best part was the end. Because this person was British, he signed off with, “Kind regards.”

Iraq inquiry: a case for waiting

March 27, 2008 at 10:47 am | Posted in British Politics, Iraq War | Leave a comment
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Perhaps someone can put in an argument to the contrary, but I’m starting to wonder whether the recent clashes in Basra actually weaken the case for an immediate inquiry into Britain’s handling of the Iraq war. On the one hand, the government’s insistence that an inquiry might be damaging for the troops is pathetic Bush-esque bullshit, and the continuing turmoil, however much it may have been stabilised by Gen. Petraeus, show that it’s necessary to learn all the lessons of our misadventure.

On the other hand, should we really want an immediate inquiry into all aspects of our involvement when it’s not yet possible to determine them? It’s been barely over three months since we handed control of Basra to the Iraqis and the full consequences of our withdrawal are still being felt. Will we really be happy with the results of this proposed post-mortem if we try carry it out before our involvement has ended?

There’s much we already know about the war without needing another inquiry to confirm it. We know that much of the faulty intelligence about WMD was publicised over good intelligence which casted doubts on these claims. We know that Britain had limited influence over plans to ‘win the peace’ and that the Americans put little thought into it. And we know that there were many strategic mistakes made immediately after the fall of Saddam’s regime and that the coalition was too slow to correct or even notice its errors.

What we don’t know much about but is probably most useful to both advocates & opponents of the war is a full account & analysis of the coalition’s military execution of it. It’s from this where we can best draw conclusions about whether it was ever possible to stage a successful liberation or not, and those are the conclusions that will probably have the most lasting consequences on foreign policy debates on both sides of the Atlantic.

The kids are alright

March 27, 2008 at 9:00 am | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment

For all the commotion about how our kids are all getting stupider (other people’s kids of course; no parent’s going to admit that their own kids are retarded), this poll of children’s reading habits is pretty reassuring. I read nothing but Match magazine until the age of 11, had a brief fling with Smash Hits whilst discovering music and, during my 15-year-old sticky underpants phase, panted guiltily over the pages of FHM. I was bought C.S. Lewis but never read it, collected Horrible History books that are still in pristine condition and hadn’t even heard of Anne Frank until GCSE History. Far from being dumbed-down, these kids are in a far better shape than I was ever in

Democrats for McCain?

March 26, 2008 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, Democratic Party Presidential Primary, Hillary Clinton | 2 Comments
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Via TPM, Gallup reports that 28% of Clinton supporters would vote for McCain is Hillary didn’t get the nomination:

Clinton supporters appear to be somewhat more reactive than Obama supporters. Twenty-eight percent of the former indicate that if Clinton is not the nominee — and Obama is — they would support McCain. That compares to 19% of Obama supporters who would support McCain if Obama is not the nominee — and Clinton is.

This is neither surprising nor something Democrats should get too anxious about. With each day there are fewer undecided voters in the primary race, and the more emotionally invested a voter becomes with one candidate, the more likely they might be to threaten to act churlishly and vote for the ‘enemy’ if their candidate doesn’t win.

Also, I’d like to bet that a sizeable portion of Hillary’s base doesn’t regard McCain as a partisan ‘enemy’ in the first place. One demographic group she practically owns is seniors (or if we’re being uncharitable, Doddery Old White People), so it makes sense that if Hillary isn’t nominated, they might look more favourably towards the Doddery Old White Man Sage Senior Statseman than the Uppity Negro Kid Charismatic Neophyte.

She also has a strong lead amongst Latinos, and given that John McCain is practically alone in his party for refusing to demonise hispanics/immigrants AND proposing sane, non-xenophobic immigration reform, they may be tempted to give him a fair hearing. None of which matters, of course, if Obama offers Bill Richardson the chance to be the first Hispanic Vice President…

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