In praise of Tigers

May 24, 2008 at 10:43 pm | Posted in Misc. | 5 Comments
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In honour of Hull City, who (somewhat improbably, given their recent history) won themselves promotion to the Premier League, a song by The Beautiful South that insists London, Milan, Lisbon, Dublin, Madrid and Paris are nothing compared to Hull’s delights:

“How can you like this place when it never even rains?”

To add to the fairytale dynamic, the goal was scored by Dean Windass, a 39-year-old, workmanlike striker who was born and bred in the city and would’ve probably retired but for the result.

Will they finish bottom of the league next season? Probably, but the glory was in getting there, against all odds, in the first place.

As a Yorkshireman, I find it quietly hilarious that our region’s only representation at the top table of English football won’t be from Leeds or Sheffield, but quiet, unfashionable Hull. I imagine their supporters feel the same way.

Repeat offenders

May 22, 2008 at 10:53 am | Posted in British Politics, Crime, New Labour | Leave a comment
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Tokenistic and superficial – Richard Garside’s withering appraisal of Labour’s attempts to deal with the causes of crime, as opposed to just banging people up in prison. Why, after 11 years and significant investment by the government, hasn’t there been any measurable impact on the level of youth crime? Garside argues that Labour’s obsession with trying to achieve it through the criminal justice system (and in so doing drawing money away from social programmes that could prove more effective) is a prime culprit:

But the most striking fact, given all the time and money spent by Labour on youth justice in the past decade, is that there has been no measurable impact on the level of reported youth offending. Since 2001 the same proportion of children – a quarter – year on year admit to having committed one offence or more. Looking further back in time the picture remains roughly the same since at least the early 1990s. Put simply, the government has spent 10 years reforming the youth justice system, spending several billion pounds, to no noticeable effect.

The lesson of the last 10 years is that seeking to solve the problem of youth crime through the criminal justice system, however tough, is unlikely to be effective. A feature of Labour’s youth justice reforms of the past decade is that money that previously would have been available to spend on social programmes has been diverted into youth justice spend. Some 15% of funding for Youth Offending Teams, for instance, is drawn from social services budgets. The youth justice system has, in effect, become a de facto social service designed to provide a range of social support services to some of the most troubled, troublesome and needy of young people.

For the more time-rich among you, he’s produced a report for the Centre for Crime & Justice Studies on what Labour has done over the 10 years and how it should change its approach.

The Bullingdon Bash Street Kids

May 22, 2008 at 7:26 am | Posted in British Politics, Conservative Party, David Cameron | Leave a comment
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Let tories be tories! End discrimination against the rich! Jonathan Freedland on class and the Crewe by-election:

Class has been a factor in the byelection campaign, with Labour hounding Timpson for his silver-spoon upbringing, despatching volunteers to the constituency in top hats and tails. And class has become a factor in our national politics, with Labour proving that it has, as yet, no idea how to handle it.

At least the Tories clearly understand their vulnerability in this area. Note their forceful efforts to have a Labour flier, featuring a mocked-up photo of Timpson in a topper, suppressed. Note their more serious, and successful, campaign to have that now legendary – genuine and undoctored – photograph of the Bullingdon Club circa 1986, featuring Cameron and Boris Johnson in full regalia, withdrawn from circulation. (Luckily for them, newspapers have complied with this edict, even though the image is just a Google away.) These are pretty strenuous exertions for a party that says it’s relaxed about background, insisting that it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s where you’re going that counts. As Stefan Stern wrote in the Financial Times last week: “If David Cameron is so proud of the ‘great school’ he attended – it was Eton, by the way – why does he never mention it by name in public?”

Aye, if only the country weren’t so crippled by inverted snobbery – whatever have the mega-rich done to deserve being made to feel embarrassed by their extravagant wealth? Well, over in this small corner of blogtown, we celebrate diversity wherever it may be, which means that when we give this image another outing…

…we only do so to celebrate expert tailoring, 70′s hairdos and good breeding. 

For those keeping score, Boris is #8, whilst #2 is Tony Hadley David Cameron.

From the Telegraph:

As members of the Bullingdon dining club, which dates back more than 150 years, David Cameron and his friends were obliged to wear the outfits for their annual photograph. But within hours of the photo being taken, the 10 young men were wreaking havoc on Oxford, where they were all at university. One of them, said to be Ewen Fergusson, threw a plant pot through a restaurant window and the police were called. Some tried to make a getaway but were arrested and thrown in police cells overnight.

“The party ended up with a number of us crawling on all fours through the hedges of the botanical gardens, and trying to escape police dogs,” said Boris Johnson, who was among those arrested. “And once we were in the cells we became pathetic namby-pambies.”

Twenty years later most of the young men in this photograph are facing their 40s. Ewen Fergusson is a successful corporate lawyer and Boris Johnson is the shadow spokesman for higher education. Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party, who said recently: “Like many young people, I did things when I was young that I should not have done and that I regret.”

He was probably referring to his youthful involvement with cannabis rather than the Bullingdon Club, but the destructive activities of the club mean that many of the members have developed an appropriate amnesia. “The blissful sponge of amnesia has wiped clean the slate of memory,” said Mr Johnson.

“Until I saw that photograph I had really forgotten all about it,” said another former member.

The Bullingdon modus operandi is to book a restaurant under a false name, smash it up, and throw large amounts of money at the upset owners — a form of behaviour which dates back to Victorian times.

See, they’re just ordinary folk like you and I – behaving like ‘rascals’, getting into ‘japes’, committing ‘tomfoolery’. The only difference is that most students vomit on the street after a ‘back to school’ party or think it’s hilarious to steal a traffic cone, whereas this lot just happen to smash up restaurants. Absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about…

Ted Kennedy

May 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in U.S. Politics | 2 Comments
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As people from right across the political divide pray for his recovery, a brief overview of his incredible record as a public servant:

Kennedy has been a player in literally every major progressive accomplishment of my life, usually a major player, quite often the leading player: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, Legal Services, the War on Poverty, environmental legislation, OSHA, bringing down Richard Nixon on the Watergate investigations, ending the Vietnam War, stopping military aid to the Contras in Central America, the Martin Luther King holiday, stopping Robert Bork, the increases in the minimum wage, Family and Medical Leave, National Service, Motor Voter Act, S-CHIP. His fingerprints are on all of that legislation, and more. And even where he failed, on universal health care and labor law reform and stopping the Iraq war and other battles, he fought the good fight with passion and heart and courage.

The writer ends on this note:

I hope like hell his fight is not ending, that he does not go gentle into that good night, because we need his passion and heart and courage in these cautious, careful times all the more.

Amen.

Via Ezra Klein, footage of Kennedy’s beautiful eulogy for his brother Bobby:

I hope this still rings true today, regardless of country:

The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American Society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny. There is pride in that, even arrogance, but there is also experience and truth. In any event, it is the only way we can live.

24 weeks: a victory and a warning

May 21, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Posted in British Politics, Conservative Party, Feminisms | Leave a comment
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As pro-choicers rightly bask in the knowledge that a woman’s right to choose won’t be eroded for at least the duration of this government, now is probably the best possible moment to warn against complacency. At Comment is Free, Mary Kenny argues that this debate has become far more complicated than those had during the ’60s and ’70s, with advanced photography of the reproductive process making the emotive case for restricting abortion seem stronger, even amongst those who’re sympathetic to a woman’s right to chose.

Then there’s the question of whether this issue will return to Parliament with a vengence if/when the Conservatives win the next election. There’s a strong likelihood that if it did re-emerge (and god knows Nadine Dorries hasn’t got much else to do with her time), the restrictionists would finally prevail:

The abortion time limit could be cut if the Conservatives win the next general election, according to an analysis of yesterday’s votes.

According to Philip Cowley of the University of Nottingham, a large influx of Tory MPs into parliament could lead to a reduction in the upper time limit of 24 weeks.

[...]

Cowley told guardian.co.uk: “I can’t see 24 weeks surviving a large Conservative intake at the next election. It’s one of the underlying truths that so-called free votes are not as non-party as people think.

“The majority of Conservative MPs voted for a reduction in the abortion time limit and the majority of Labour MPs voted against. The maths are pretty straightforward when there’s a large Conservative intake.”

He added: “One of the problems for the Tories’ position is that once you state the argument for viability of the child and science, the abortion time limit will only go down. It’s never going to go up again.”

Violent femmes

May 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Posted in British Politics, Feminisms | Leave a comment
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Here’s a dilemma that’s got ‘Bleeding Heart’ written all over it: how do we understand the not-so-shocking fact that rather than just being simpering, sugar & spice sweethearts, women are just as capable (though far less likely) of committing crime as men?

Whilst he doesn’t make any earth-shattering insights (this is Comment is Free, after all), Ally Fogg at least makes an honourable attempt at it. Fogg’s main argument is that whilst there are some easily-identifyable facts about gender & crime – (a) we live in a patriarchal society, (b) men commit the most crime & the most violence and (c) women are more likely to be victims of male agression than vice versa – female criminality shouldn’t be reduced to just a symptom of these problems.

In this sense he’s absolutely right; crime can’t be understood by focusing exclusively on gender any more than it can understood by focusing exclusively on age, race, family background, economic circumstances, mental health, physical health or whether they like to drive around virtual cities running over pedestrians. To understand crime you need to look at a plurality of causes, and whilst you can prioritise some over others, it’s foolish to dismiss them for not fitting your preconceptions.

That said, I really can’t sign up to this:

To draw a distinction between male and female violence is often, I believe, simply bad science.

Notice there’s enough equivocation in that sentence to allow him to wriggle out of it if challenged. There is absolutely a need to distinguish between male and female violence, if only to account for the fact that it isn’t women who’re responsible for the vast majority of the rapings, the ‘honour’ killings and the genital mutilations on the planet. These are overwhelmingly male crimes and should be distinguished as such; failure to do so leads to the rather icky implication that capability & responsibility are somehow shared between the sexes.

Perhaps this didn’t fit with the argument he was trying to make, but I also think Fogg’s post would’ve had greater relevance if he’d talked about trends in female crime rather than just focusing on a few headline-making examples. Last week, the Youth Justice Board reported that crimes committed by girls aged 10 to 17 rose a whopping 25% between 2003/4 & 2006/07; the most commonly-committed were theft, violent attack, criminal damage and public order offences.

So yes, girls are committing more crimes and becoming more violent; they’re stealing and happy-slapping, vandalising and getting hammered. But when you look at the types of crimes being committed, you’ll notice how depressingly familiar they are to people from socially & economically deprived backgrounds. In areas with drugs and crime and antisocial behaviour kids have to be tough to survive, and this can certainly – though not inevitably – lead towards criminal, violent or otherwise ‘deviant’ behaviour whether they happen to be male or female. For me, it’s not that the problem of female violence is getting out of control, but that it’s rising to reflect the circumstances around them.

This perhaps supports Fogg’s general point that by viewing female crime solely through the blinkers of gender relations, you’ll get only a small slice of the myriad motivations and mitigations that drive women (and, indeed, men) to commit violent crime. But either way, we need to be a lot less freaked out by such incidents and a lot more focused on how they can be prevented.

Mehdi Kazemi granted asylum

May 20, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Posted in Asylum, Gay Rights | 1 Comment
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Some of my more ‘veteran readers’ (i.e. the 6 people who knew I was keeping this blog), might remember an earlier post about Mehdi Kazemi, the 19-year-old Iranian teenager who sought asylum in Britain and feared he would be killed if returned to Iran (not without justification, either – his own boyfriend was killed for being gay).

Kazemi’s initial application was refused, prompting him to try the Netherlands, but when a Dutch court (correctly) decided it should be our decision in the first place, his plight became desperate, prompting the Lib Dems’  Simon Hughes and various members of the House of Lords to appeal to the Home Office to show some rarely-seen humanity.

Anyway, his case was reconsidered and today the young man heard he has been granted asylum in Britain:

The home secretary agreed to reconsider Mr Kazemi’s case in March, after his first asylum bid failed.

The UK Border Agency now says it will allow him asylum after reviewing his case.

A spokesman said: “The UK Border Agency considers each case on its individual merits and will continue to provide refuge for those asylum seekers with a genuine need for protection.

“We keep cases under review where circumstances have changed and it has been decided that Mr Kazemi should be granted leave to remain in the UK based on the particular facts of this case.”

Here’s hoping he finds a peace & freedom he was deprived of back home.

HFE Victory #3

May 20, 2008 at 7:34 pm | Posted in British Politics | Leave a comment

So far, so good. After backing the use of hybrid embryos and rejecting a ban on ‘saviour siblings‘, the Commons has now voted against Ian Duncan Smith’s amendment to require that all those seeking IVF treatment must provide a father and a mother, thereby excluding lesbian couples from conceiving.

The vote on abortion will happen sometime in the next few hours, but you should really head over to Liberal Conspiracy, where the updates, links and general good times (well, if arguing about reproductive freedom is your idea of a ‘good time’) are plentiful.

Hamas endorses American Idol

May 19, 2008 at 9:22 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Today’s fake news. Damn you, Hamas! Is there no dearly-loved democratic institution you won’t try to subvert?!

Pundits of the right and left, along with music industry executives and several million teenage girls, clashed today over what appeared to be an endorsement of American Idol contestant David Archuleta by the radical Islamic organization Hamas. The disputed remarks came at the end of a press conference given by Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef, when he digressed from his comments about the latest round of violence between Israel and Palestinians to say, “I really like David Archuleta. I hope he wins.”

[...]

Meanwhile, fans of the other finalist, David Cook, suggested that a vote for Archuleta would be a vote for terror. Tiffany Shuler, age 13, of White Plains, New York, issued a statement on behalf of herself, and her best friends forever, Amber Waletsky and Shawnia James. “David Archuleta is an appeaser and as we learned from the example of Neville Chamberlain surrendering the Sudetenland to Hitler in 1938, appeasement does not work. Plus, David Cook is like, so totally hot! He rocks!”

Read the whole thing. Some context here.

I suppose the only question remaining is… who do Hamas think should be Nancy?

A Byrd for Obama

May 19, 2008 at 9:11 pm | Posted in Barack Obama, U.S. Politics | 2 Comments
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In an endorsement rich with symbolism, Senator Robert Bryd of West Virginia (a state that went overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton) has endorsed Barack Obama for President:

“After a great deal of thought, consideration and prayer over the situation in Iraq, I have decided that, as a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, I will cast my vote for Senator Barack Obama for President. Both Senators Clinton and Obama are extraordinary individuals, whose integrity, honor, love for this country and strong belief in our Constitution I deeply respect.”

“I believe that Barack Obama is a shining young statesman, who possesses the personal temperament and courage necessary to extricate our country from this costly misadventure in Iraq, and to lead our nation at this challenging time in history. Barack Obama is a noble-hearted patriot and humble Christian, and he has my full faith and support.”

Why so rich in symbolism? Well, as a young man, Senator Byrd was a leader of a local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan. For one man to make the long journey from being the member of a murderous gang to a Senator who was resistant to the civil rights movement and finally reach the embers of his life as an old man endorsing a young black man for President shows just how much progress a country can make in a short space of time.

Clueless in Crewe

May 19, 2008 at 8:30 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour | Leave a comment
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In spite of the evidence to suggest the Tories have (quelle surprise), been practicing rank hypocrisy in their battle for Gwyneth Dunwoody’s seat, the overwhelming consensus is that Labour hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in this by-election. As Dan Ashton notes, erecting a contrast between Tamsin and her millionaire opponent on the basis of class and privilege only works if the one casting herself as a working class hero represents a party seen as being on the side of ordinary people. With the 10p tax fiasco not forgotten or forgiven, Labour hasn’t been able to do that.

So it really baffles me that the whole ‘Timpson is a Toff’ angle became the running theme in this campaign, particularly when there was a far more positive, less pungent narrative to be exploited. If her mother was well-liked and respected (perhaps even more so since her death), she could’ve campaigned to further Gwyneth Dunwoody’s legacy – distance herself from the national party at a time when its ratings are in the gutter and promote herself as a strong-willed and independent-minded MP who puts people before the party. When you contrast that with a simpering Cameron yes-man who is high on style but low on substance, you’ve got a fighting chance of holding on to the seat. To be fair, there’s evidence that they’ve tried to promote this characterisation on the candidate’s website, but the moment the press caught sight of the prat in the hat, that was always going to be the campaign’s central issue. It just seems clueless and boorish, and if Labour campaigns like this in two years time, those predictions of a Tory victory might turn out to be an underestimation.

Woody’s European enablers

May 19, 2008 at 2:42 pm | Posted in Music, Art, Etcetera | Leave a comment
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Shorter Joe Queenan: when will you goddamned Euro-commies wake up and realise that Woody Allen is never going to make another decent film, no matter how much of your America-hating lucre you fling at him?

Americans can be blamed for many things, but the perpetuation of Allen’s zombie-like career is one atrocity for which we refuse to be held accountable. It is Europeans who are providing much of the money for these projects, Europeans who are welcoming the director to their communities, Europeans who are marching through the turnstiles in support of Allen’s interchangeably neurasthenic films. Europeans are the ones paying the freight for Allen’s cavalcade of duds.

[...]

If you people on your side of the Atlantic are going to keep funding this hokum, you’re going to have to accept the responsibility. My greatest worry is that Allen will keep this European tour going for the rest of his life, dropping in on one gullible country after another, making a couple of locally financed films and then blowing town before the stench hits.

I can see a Zagreb-based Woody Allen film where the director plays a washed-up Serb stand-up comic whose career is suddenly revived by meeting a perky Bosnian-American exchange student played by Thandie Newton. I can see a Polish Woody Allen film about a washed-up klezmer player whose career is revived by a chance encounter with a Santa Cruz forensic scientist (Tina Fey) investigating Chopin’s suspicious death. I can see a Macedonian film about a social-climbing rag merchant who keeps getting visits from a ghost who claims to be Alexander the Great, but is actually a delusional Second Avenue deli counter man named Herbie Schlegel.

Well, when Norman Wisdom’s career was effectively finished, he made up for it by visiting an adoring Albania where he’s regarded with the same fondness as some people have for Elvis. So all we need to do is find Woody a similar small country that’s willing to shower him in unreserved adulation and forgive his increasingly desperate & regrettable films. Freedonia, anyone?

The Thatcher fetish

May 19, 2008 at 8:55 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s a pretty common affliction, frequently exhibited amongst the inhabitants of the British right. The most debilitating symptom: an inability to process the fact that some people have never liked her.

So when you encounter someone suffering from this fetish, it helps to look upon them with sympathy, particularly when they write things like this:

Though the British Left hates her for appealing to the working classes more than they ever did, they have never been able to find any evidence of Margaret Thatcher behaving in an unprincipled way. (emphasis mine)

Yeah, I’m sure that when she decimated industry, weakened the trade unions and helped slander the unemployed as scroungers, the working class knew that she was just doing it out of love. As evidenced by the large number of Tory MPs and councillors who represent working class communities, right?

Oh. Maybe not.

Going back to the roots

May 18, 2008 at 8:52 pm | Posted in New Labour | Leave a comment

Oh, what a morbid bunch we’re becoming. Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Alan Thomas writes about John McDonnell’s latest attempt to save Labour from the right-wing thinking that has been its undoing. In order to rescue the party from the misery of opposition, McDonnell apparently wants everyone to return to socialist critiques of capitalism and use them as the basis for new policies to protect jobs and pensions in a volatile market economy. A perfectly noble endeavour, you might think, but Thomas is still filled with skepticism about how any of this might be achieved:

However, with the best will in the world, that’s all it is: a conference. McDonnell (like Labour leftists responding to my previous article on a related subject) offers no means via which these ideas could actually find their way into the Labour mainstream, other presumably than that they’ll just be so good, and New Labour so bankrupt, that the party will have to accept them. If he believes that, then he’s living in a land of cabbages and kings, or at the very least a now similarly remote world of resolutions and accountability.

Marx was always very concerned not only with what should be done and why, but also with how and by whom. In other words with agency as well as concept and structure. Unfortunately there is no remaining mechanism within the Labour Party via which new, progressive policies can take hold, other than by convincing the (right wing) hierarchy that they’re a good idea.

Indeed. Only a madhatter could imagine that the party’s hierarchy will react to an electoral defeat with the eureka! of ‘Oh, I know what our problem was – we just weren’t left wing enough! Let’s retreat to the hills and not return until we’ve all read Das Kapital!’ With its falling membership and chronic financial difficulties, the party doesn’t seem capable of reforming itself either ideologically or organisationally. That’s where we need to step up.

(Warning: what follows is the continuation of a pet project that will bore the less resilient among you to tears)

If Labour is turfed out of power in 2010 and people become so appalled by the Tory party’s agenda that they need an outlet for their pent-up rage, the blogosphere – almost unparalleled as an avenue for cost-free ranting – is where many of them will turn to. So if our numbers swell and our popularity increases, so does our potential influence; if a left-wing blogger could be read by the same number of people as Polly Toynbee or Jackie Ashley, people at Labour’s HQ will quickly take notice.

More significantly, the Labour Party, just like all the others, is influenced profoundly by money. If this liberal-left blogosphere was committed and well-organised, it could seek to raise money for parliamentary candidates, could promote and help fund worthwhile campaigns (see LC’s 24 weeks campaign) and act as an essential reserve army of grassroots support. To harness this potential, the party would have to provide a platform to give the disaffected a reason to donate their time & money.

All of this, of course, is some way in the future, but I think there are certainly ways of influencing the party from the outside of its hierarchy. The task for the liberal left is to prove how valuable – nay indispensable – the grassroots can be as an agent of change. Since nothing else has worked so far, I reckon it’s worth a try.

Late Night Recovery #13

May 13, 2008 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Late Night Recovery | Leave a comment

Posting will be a little light for the next two days as I take some time off work to watch this superlative songsmith whisper sweet-nothings to the indie snobs of Sheffield.

Beer gardens may also be frequented.

Depending on whether your tastes are as highly-refined as my own (hastily hides old Catatonia albums from view), here’s what you’re missing out on.

Iron & Wine

from www.brightcove.tv posted with vodpod

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