NEWFRED

 

Dead Ed   (30.9.10)

Brian Wheeler writes,

The new leader's key message for the week was that the party had to change. That New Labour was dead.

If that's the true depth of Ed Miliband's appraisal of New Labour (you know, the New Labour that managed to take Labour to power after two decades in opposition, and the New Labour that took to its bed, overcome by cold sweats the day Gordon Brown began his nostalgic lurch to the left in 2007), you can be damn sure Labour's not going to win an election any time soon.

The party sure has to change. It has to become New Labour again to have any chance at the polls.

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Gay Hatred and Suicide   (30.9.10)

God writes straight with crooked lines.

— Portuguese proverb

I've remarked before on the obnoxious pseudo-liberals who defend the bigotry of "conservative" Christians on the subject of homosexuality. In the USA in recent weeks there have been several widely-reported suicides of gay youths and youths subjected to homophobic bullying. For example, Seth Walsh, 13 years old and openly gay, hanged himself from a tree and later died in hospital after subjection to bullying at school. Classically Liberal writes passionately about the moral culpability of such religious (and, of course, non-religious) bigotry for these tragic events:

Libertarians have to stand up for the rights of these kids, to speak out against the hatred and the prejudice. We can acknowledge that bigots have a right to believe their own stupid theology, but we don't have to condone the hate they preach. We are on morally sound ground to condemn the bigots, to name them, and to shame them. More importantly, I believe that any of us who value human life and human rights have to condemn the bigotry. We must speak out against it.

Call it political correctness if you want. I don't care. If political correctness means private, community pressure against prejudice and hatred, then I'm for it. I yearn for the day when every bigot is afraid to express their prejudices, not because they will be arrested, but because decent people will no long[er] wish to be associated with them.

How many more kids have to kill themselves?

Yes, if you don't think gay people have the same rights that you have, then I am blaming you, in part, for this tragedy. I don't give a damn if you claim your prejudice is sanctioned by a magic man in the sky or some "holy" book. Hatred is still hatred, even if you pretend a deity sanctions it.

The adults spreading these messages are infecting their own children with the same sort of venomous hate. And those kids go into the schools and make life a living hell for other people's children. What really disgusts me is that these monsters claim they are doing this "for the children."

[...] Be proud of yourselves. Relish your accomplishments. You have managed, through the spreading of your hatred, to get another school kid to try to take his own life. Aren't you just fucking wonderful!

All Christians have to make their mind up whether love between two people of the same sex is of greater moral toxicity than a dogmatic hatred that is proven to drive vulnerable young people to suicide. Increasingly, and rightly, there is no middle ground available for the obnoxious pseudo-liberal to stand.

And then I think back to that pathetically insipid conversation with the person from Dunedin Diocesan Office. "But it's what they believe..."

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Gymkhana Practice   (30.9.10)

HOLY CRAP this is cool.

(via)

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Sad   (29.9.10)

There's a wonderful little article on the BBC today by Mary Kenny:

When I was a young woman in France in the 1960s, you would come across a shop with its blinds drawn, and a notice saying: "Ferme pour deuil": closed for mourning.

It is still seen in France, and is also a usual response in Italy. Mourning symbols were widespread in all cultures - widows' weeds, black armbands - and the community was expected to respect those who mourn.

Outward signs of mourning have declined, if not been abolished in more secular societies now: but our sense of sadness and loss endure, and instead of being this being called mourning, it is called "trauma".

It might be a start to revive or recapture some of the wider, non-medical vocabulary for the gamut of human experience.

Depression may also be melancholy: it may be discouragement, disappointment, abandonment, sadness, sorrow, mourning, rejection, regret, anxiety, grief, obsession, introspection, loss, separation, loneliness, isolation, alienation, guilt, loss of hope, temperamental woe and simple, pure, unhappiness.

More than this, though: the over-use of the term "depression" — both colloquially and clinically — diminishes those who really suffer in some very extreme ways with the condition, while unnecessary pathologising or indulging those who are mildly miserable.

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Ending control orders   (28.9.10)

As part of the Liberty fringe event at the Lib Dems' party conference, Simon Hughes has re-stated the party's commitment to ending control orders:

Simon Hughes was categorical in his opposition to control orders and extended pre-charge detention. He appreciated that coalition Government cannot run by a checklist of one party’s policies, but reminded the audience that scrapping control orders was a clear Lib Dem manifesto pledge. He understood that there would sometimes be resistance from other politicians with their own democratic mandate but warned against the siren voices of the unelected security establishment. 'When do they ever ask for less powers?' was his clear warning to ministerial colleagues about defending liberal values in Government.

Again I say to those Lib Dem voters who think that forming a coalition with the Tories was a sell-out: under what other arrangement could a liberal force in politics have this kind of bargaining power, constrained though it may be by the compromises of such a coalition? (And let's not forget that control orders were a flagship Zanu-Labour policy.)

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Boris on Ed Miliband   (27.9.10)

Boris is back. Maybe his article about Balls the other week did the trick, installing a leftwinger in the Labour leadership and enhancing the dreary prospect of another 18 years of Tory rule:

Yes, it was idyllic in the pre-paranoid 1970s, and you may by this stage be wondering what I mean when I say that things are so much better today. Well, there was one thing that we did worry about – and that was the economy.

This was the era of the three-day week, and the lights going out, and capricious and arbitrary union power being used to bring the country to its knees. It was a decade that culminated in our pathetic national capitulation to the IMF.

I note that Ed Miliband has emerged blatantly from the bowels of the trade unions, and that it was thanks to union chiefs that he edged a millimetre ahead of the elder Miliband. I note that he and other senior Labour figures are now pledging to support strike action – no matter how unreasonable, no matter how much damage it may do to the interests of the general public or the British economy – in the hope of scoring political points against the Coalition Government.

I note, in other words, that under Ed Miliband the trade unions seem set to dominate the Labour Party in exactly the way that Blair and Brown managed successfully to avoid.

There are many lessons from an inner London primary school in the 1970s – and it would be tragic if Ed were to take the wrong one.

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Zanu-Labour   (27.9.10)

It's hard to avoid the feeling that the Labour Party has just made an enormous mistake in choosing Ed Miliband as their new leader. The kind of reassurances he has had to spend the last two days giving (I'm not Red Ed, I'm not too left-wing, I'm not in the pocket of the unions, etc.) should have been established firmly enough after almost four months of campaigning. That he has to give these assurances after winning raises many questions about the authority he will be able to command from the PLP and party more widely. And as for PMQs, you can be sure that his authority will be questioned at every possible opportunity.

Apart from the lightweightness of Miliband himself, there is the whole issue of the ageing vultures from the Blair-Brown era who already circle around in the hopes of mopping up a shadow cabinet post. Meanwhile, the most eloquent and obviously suitable person for the job -- David Miliband -- is likely to leave front-line politics altogether. How can all this add up to an electable Labour party?

Finally, there's the elephant in the room. The question of Labour's appalling record on civil liberties didn't really come up in the leadership contest. This suggests that the authoritarian streak of the Labour party remains thoroughly unreformed. As one commenter on the Balls piece put it,

[quoting another commenter] Yet again, not a single word on the atrocious Zanu-Labour assault on civil liberties. Do you think it's a blind spot of theirs, or something else? [end quote]

They do not see it as a problem, therefore they do not talk about it. In their eyes the more the state knows and the more the state controls the better.

The reason I have never voted for Labour in my life is its Zanu-Labour tendencies. If Ed Miliband is serious about winning the centre ground, this is a part of Labour's record which can't any longer be ignored.

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Quantum leap   (27.9.10)

Congratulations to Selwyn College colleague Matt McGovern, who is part of a team of physicists at the University of Otago to have captured the Rubidium 85 atom. I don't much understand the science, but it is a breakthrough of international significance for quantum physics and for the future of quantum computing.

Update

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Congratulations   (25.9.10)

To the new Labour candidate for Dunedin North.

Update

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Serial bike buyer   (24.9.10)

These confessions of a serial bicycle buyer struck a chord. I currently own three road bikes. But if I had the space or the money I would own four -- since I clearly need a mountain bike for the trails around Manchester, a road bike for commuting, a nice road bike for longer rides, and one more 12,000 miles away.

Such habits raise a series of questions, the most obvious of which – where do you stop? – is a popular one on internet cycling forums. One oft-repeated answer is that the ideal number of bikes is X plus one, where X is the number you currently own.

The other debate is more obvious still: why? Isn't it an indulgence? To an extent, yes, but my argument would be that when set against many other leisure pursuits (classic cars, yachting, cocaine), cycling is absurdly economical.

You have to admire the argument that an addiction is made acceptable by its being more economical than cocaine use. If I were the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, I'd be using this argument to defend all kinds of extravagances.

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Paroisse de la Saint Trinité, Paris, II   (22.9.10)

Paroisse de la Saint Trinité, Paris, II

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O'Sullivan's 147   (22.9.10)

Ronnie O'Sullivan has a habit of behaving like a spoilt brat, demonstrated by all manner of misdemeanours from walking out of his UK Championship tie with Stephen Hendry a few years ago to his repeated (and empty) threats to retire. He is occasionally compared with the late Alex Higgins, but the comparison isn't apt: O'Sullivan's love-hate relationship with the game usually comes across as a contrived ego-trip, while Higgins's turmoils were all too authentic.

That said, the latest controversy over his almost-abandoned 147 break is strange. Basically, O'Sullivan was going to refuse the final black of the break in protest at the fact that there was no prize available for completing a maximum. It was a classic piece of O'Sullivan petulance. But... was he not within his rights to do so? Barry Hearn, the new chairman of World Snooker, told O'Sullivan that he would have faced disciplinary action had he not attempted the final pot. But I don't think there are grounds in the rules of the game for any such action to be taken. The rules state that the frame is over if one player requires snookers and only the black remains on the table. And, as far as I'm aware, there is no requirement in the rules to please the crowd -- rather, only to give of your best. O'Sullivan clearly did that, winning 3-0 and compiling one of the most assured breaks I've ever seen to seal victory.

There is a further twist. The 147 break has been allowed to stand because the public like 147 breaks. But by the letter of the law, the break should stand at 140, because King had conceded the match by shaking hands with O'Sullivan before the last black was potted. The frame was already over. The new administration of World Snooker is long overdue and is good news for the game. But they don't seem too bothered about observing the rules, when good publicity is at stake.

Update

I stand corrected regarding my assertion that the break should stand at 140. Referee Jan Verhaas explains. Although this may be a case of the rules not being clear in this area, since many players were under the same impression as me. Can a referee really tell a player he has to pot the final black when the frame is dead? What would have happened if O'Sullivan had refused? Would he have forfeited the frame?)

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Goldacre on Pope   (20.9.10)

The excellent Ben Goldacre, metaphorical assassin of "Dr" Gillian McKeith, laments the nonchalent silence of Christians who have let the Pope's visit go by without criticism:

I don't know who'll show up today, but what makes me sad is that we haven't seen very much of christians standing up and saying: a lot of what the pope does is wrong. I guess maybe christians of non-catholic varieties don't want to be seen to be cross-fighting, since there's history there, and catholics don't want to make a fuss. I guess maybe some people don't care about stuff like equality, diversity, child rape, discrimination and condoms all that much.

I'll resist the urge to say you're complicit in the actions of your church if you fail to stand up and speak out about it. I can understand different people have different reasons for not coming. But if you try and pretend that this protest is about discrimination against catholics, or people being anti-religion, you are doing yourself a very great moral disservice, and cutting out legitimate criticism of some very serious misdeeds, which deserve to be be met with seriousness.

Today McKeith, tomorrow the Pope. Certainly, a paternity test of some kind is in order.

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At some tower in Paris   (20.9.10)

At some tower in Paris

We made it! 320 miles later. Things went roughly like this.

  • Day 1: Blackheath to Dover, 85.2 miles, 6h33m
  • Day 2: Calais to Arras, 86.9 miles, 6h55m
  • Day 3: Arras to Compiègne, 85 miles, 5h56m
  • Day 4: Compiègne to Paris, 62.8 miles, 4h50m
  • Day 5: Paris to London, 307 miles, 2h16m

Thanks again to everyone who donated money. The group has so far raised over £100,000. I'm still taking donations and so is he.

(more photos)

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Paroisse de la Saint Trinité, Paris, I   (20.9.10)

Paroisse de la Saint Trinité, Paris, I

Messiaen's church of 60 years.

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1 day to go   (14.9.10)

Arrived in London. Staying in Blackheath in anticipation of a 5am wake-up call. Weather unpromising. Hotel decor not renewed since Georgian times. Building contains no parallel lines. Paris trembles in fear.

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It's official   (14.9.10)

Good parenting is, in fact, illegal in Britain.

More naggying jobsworths.

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Wool ass   (13.9.10)

Elwyn Watkins, defeated Liberal candidate for Oldham East, has begun making his case against the incumbent Labour MP Phil Woolas today at a specially convened election court in the neighbouring constituency.

Counsel for Mr Watkins Helen Mountfield QC said Mr Woolas was concerned about the effects of an anti-Labour swing nationally, the expenses scandal and decisions taken by him as immigration minister, adding: "Mr Woolas and his team were playing for high stakes and came up with a strategy to deal with the perceived Liberal Democrat threat which they themselves described as 'risky'."

"They set out to attack Mr Watkins personally and say whatever it took to turn the electorate against him."

The court was told that false statements were made in three publications on behalf of Mr Woolas in the run-up to the election.

She said: "Mr Woolas's team had made an overt and, some may say, shocking decision to set out to 'make the white folk angry' by depicting an alleged campaign by those who they described generically as Asians to 'take Phil out' and then present Mr Watkins as in league with them.

"This was intended to galvanise the white Sun vote against him," she said.

Miss Mountfield said Mr Woolas's team had said Mr Watkins had made statements to "woo" and "pander" to fanatics and militants and had refused "to condemn death threats which Mr Woolas claimed had been made against him because he was 'in the pay' of a rich Arab sheikh".

They also accused him of spending more than allowed on election leaflets, of illicitly channelling funds from a foreign donor, and of failing to move into the constituency as promised, the court heard.

Miss Mountfield said: "These statements were made in a desperate attempt to change the election result.

"Mr Woolas made these false statements as part of a series of reckless and irresponsible steps in this campaign - using doctored photographs, misrepresenting facts, stooping even to fomenting racial divisions and tensions. He did it because he feared that if he didn't he would lose.

"The petitioner fully supports the concept of robust political debate but that does not mean a free-for-all in which any candidate can say whatever they like."

Woolas will make his defence later this week.

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Pope Song   (12.9.10)

If you don't like swear words, I recommend you do not listen to Tim Minchin's genius Pope Song. (thx, ionicus)

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In the end   (11.9.10)

Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote last week, in an article I agree with to the letter,

There is in the act of burning something primitive and tribalistic, something that appeals to the lizard brain which has no ability or desire to reason, no comprehension of ideals and abstract concepts, that knows only that it lives in fear of a world it cannot understand and will do anything to send the fear away.

But shouldn't this thought be pursued a little further? Is there not also "something that appeals to the lizard brain" in banning such acts? The immortal line Heinrich Heine's 1821 play Almansor has been quoted often in the past few days: "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings." By coincidence, Heine's was also a reference to the burning of the Koran.

The guilty liberal truncates this phrase, ignores the passage of time Heine includes between the two, ignores the fact that they are dissimilar acts, ultimately claims that book-burning is the same as murder. Yet Heine's "in the end" implies a period in which argument, persuasion, and public condemnation can take place, even in the midst of totalitarian minds. When book-burning is banned, the opportunity for such challenges to the "primitive and tribalistic" attitudes of the book-burners is lost, and perhaps also the chance to stop their hatred turning to the burning of human beings.

(via)

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Bonfire applicant wanted for murder by proxy he doesn't know   (10.9.10)

Terry Jones's proposed book-burning was always wrong — offensive to the point of idiocy. However, it neither procured nor incited murder or violence, and as such it was not in any way illegal under US law. Strange, then, when people start claiming that he is responsible for the murderous actions of others, such as the shootings in Baghdad, which are purportedly acts of retaliation for the book-burning. (Strange, also, that the perpetrators are retaliating to an event which has not yet happened.) It is often those on what Norman Geras calls the "verkrappt left" who make such insinuations.

The "retaliation" to Jones's non-book-burning may well be entirely predictable. For that reason, we are right to question Jones's wisdom in tempting fate with such a provocative plan. But that predictability nevertheless remains primarily a reflection on those who have chosen to "retaliate" by committing murder. The guilty liberal might say, "But you're desecrating their holy book!" And the guilty liberal would be right. But is the desecration of a book, however holy, of a graver moral order than committing murder of your fellow man? Surely it is the person who is driven by such an absurd ranking of moral values (whether s/he is Muslim, Christian, atheist, communist, secular, or whatever) who is solely responsible for her actions. The verkrappt left think that the (non-)burning of books makes you responsible for murder; but of course, if someone else commits murder because they've taken offence at your (not) burning a book — well, that's just fine.

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Koran Recycling   (10.9.10)

What with all this brewhaha about book-burners, is anybody giving sustained thought to book-recyclers? Today, while scanning a chapter from a book, I noticed a "Please Recycle" symbol on the back cover. Putting aside the pessimism about the book that this seems to express on the part of either its publisher or its author, the prospect of recycling a book raises curious questions about the destruction of texts. Would Pastor Terry Jones have caused the same uproar if he'd proposed an "International Cross-Shred A Koran Day"? Such questions are, thankfully, ones to which we do not know the answer.

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Hari on Pope   (9.9.10)

The excellent Johann Hari writes ahead of the Pope's visit:

In the US in 1985, a group of American bishops wrote to Ratzinger begging him to defrock a priest called Father Stephen Kiesle, who had tied up and molested two young boys in a rectory. Ratzinger refused for years, explaining that he was thinking of the "good of the universal Church" and of the "detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke among the community of Christ's faithful, particularly considering the young age" of the priest involved. He was 38. He went on to rape many more children. Think about what Ratzinger's statement reveals. Ratzinger thinks the "good of the universal Church" – your church – lies not in protecting your children from being raped, but in protecting the rapists from punishment.

I know that for many British Catholics, their faith makes them think of something warm and good and kind – a beloved grandmother, or the gentler sayings of Jesus. That is not what Ratzinger stands for. If you turn out to celebrate him, you will be understood as endorsing his crimes and his cruelties. If your faith pulls you towards him rather than his victims, shouldn't that make you think again about your faith? Doesn't it suggest that faith in fact distorts your moral faculties?

I know it may cause you pain to acknowledge this. But it is nothing compared to the pain of a child raped by his priest, or a woman infected with HIV because Ratzinger said condoms make Aids worse, or a gay person stripped of basic legal protections. You have a choice during this state visit: stand with Ratzinger, or stand with his Catholic victims. Which side, do you think, would be chosen by the Nazarene carpenter you find on your crucifixes? I suspect he would want Ratzinger to be greeted with an empty, repulsed silence, broken only by cries for justice – and the low approaching wail of a police siren.

This is where a belief in "the rights of institutions" gets you.

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Religious tolerance   (8.9.10)

Michael Goldfarb muses on the relationship between religious freedom and religious tolerance. It nominally focuses on the "Ground Zero Mosque", but is probably more relevant to the Koran burning planned by the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida (there's a hypocritical name for a church, if ever I heard one!) Goldfarb's brief etymological inquiry into the word "tolerance" is informative:

Now, before we get all misty-eyed and think Locke's essay is the 17th Century version of children holding hands and singing "We Are the World" you have to understand that "toleration" as it was used by Enlightenment philosophers comes from the Latin word tolerare meaning "to endure".

It is closer in meaning to the phrase "high pain tolerance" rather than something noble and generous. We endure our minorities for the better functioning of the commonwealth.

This is indeed the proper liberal understanding of tolerance. Religious tolerance does not commit us to respecting the views of others (such as the Pope), but only to enduring them. As far as privately-funded book-burnings go, that is something the Muslim community must, similarly, endure.

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When benefits are not benefits   (8.9.10)

DC has written a thought-provoking post on child poverty over on his campaign blog. He argues that the existence of relative child poverty in NZ indicates a need for more benefit payments to poor families. Child poverty is an issue where liberals and leftists should find much common ground: personal liberty and individual responsibility doesn't mean much if your starting position in life, both socially and financially, puts you at a severe disadvantage. Indeed, economic inequalities, when severe enough, amount to a de facto restriction on the rights and liberties of the poorest. There is therefore a good liberal/libertarian case for reducing these inequalities; it is commonly called "left-libertarianism" because of its commitment both to strong personal liberty and economic redistribution.

However, while the standard left and liberal positions can find shared ground in a commitment to reducing child poverty, we rarely agree on the best methods by which to do so. Therefore, while I agree with DC's general assertion that "if left unaddressed, the problems of deprivation will grow - as greater numbers of children are born into the hardest situations," I take issue with his analysis of the approach required. He writes that "[i]n the UK, the previous Labour Government attempted to address child poverty by directing 1% of GDP toward solutions. It seems that that was not enough."

The ruling assumption in the Labour argument is that bigger benefits are better benefits. A measure of consequentialist thinking is in order. If paying more benefits had only the intended effects — ie, guaranteeing the material goods necessary for a happy childhood and a successful education, supplying a large enough bundle of cash to open up greater personal choices at the age of majority, creating ambitions and aspirations in people that would otherwise be powerless and downtrodden — then paying more benefits would obviously be the answer. But we forget the principle of double effect at our peril. Paying high levels of benefits may have little effect on the underlying inequalities for reasons of cultural entrenchment, or they may very well produce the opposite of the intended results by incentivising choices that reinforce the very entrenched poverty they were meant to relieve.

For instance, in the UK, if you are out of work you are likely to receive Job Seekers' Allowance, Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit. There is no incentive in moving from a sedentary life financed by benefits, into an exhausting minimum-wage job that pays you (after income tax, national insurance and council tax) just about the same amount of money, and, if you are unable to work full-time, almost certainly less. Thus you become, as an individual, psychologically and financially dependent on government support; and when such dependency becomes culturally entrenched in geographical areas, it's hard to see how paying more "benefits" is going to lift children in those areas into a more fulfilled and responsible life. Similarly, giving people a straightforward entitlement to Child Benefit incentivises the procreation of children in family environments that are incapable of financially supporting those children. Thus you end up growing the number of children born into a culture of dependency and aspirational poverty.

UK Labour fully realised this in the Blair years, and it was part of the New Labour ideology to deliver "better benefits" rather than just bigger benefits. Initiatives such as the child trust fund aimed to deliver benefits that directly incentivised children, although that policy is being substantially altered by the coalition government. Tony Blair recently expressed his view that the left of the Labour party simply "doesn't get aspiration." As surely as aspiration alone cannot defeat entrenched, structural inequality, the payment of escalating levels of benefits will also fail without taking seriously their unintended consequences.

In short: I agree with DC that UK benefit payments are inadequate; but their inadequacy is qualitative, rather than quantitative.

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Bojo's Balls   (6.9.10)

Do we detect some skulduggery in Bojo's recent endorsement of Ed Balls? I really don't know what to make of it. My best guess is that it is a strategy to disrupt the current Labour leadership vote; since Cameroonian ideology is to command and conquer the centre ground, the Tories surely calculate that their best chance of consolidating power at the next election is with a Labour lurch to the left. So Bojo puts out a statement endorsing the leftwinger Balls and ridiculing the Milibands as "these perfectly amiable north London intellectuals [neither of whom] has ever said anything memorable about anything". In order to fool the Labour party membership into thinking he's serious, he dresses it up as a critique of the coalition's economic policy. This is where the art of political buffoonery really comes into its own. It's either totally genuine or a supreme piece of spin.

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Domestic Violence and Feminism   (6.9.10)

There was a good little interview on the news this morning about the under-reported phenomenon of domestic violence inflicted upon men by women:

There's a widespread belief that it's mainly women who are the victims of violence in the home, but a study suggests that as many as 40% of victims are men.

The group Parity, which campaigns for men's rights, says that male victims are often ignored by police and there are only a handful of refuge places for abused men across the UK.

True feminism fights for the rights of women to choose their own identities and destinies, freed from the strictures and violence of patriarchal society. It is a fight I advocate in the strongest terms. Yet the flip side of true feminism must be the recognition that patriarchal society has also long disadvantaged men who are by nature similarly disinclined to "traditional" gender roles. Sadly, as this report briefly illustrates, there persists a sexist idea that men should be "manly" and that the violence men suffer at the hands of women is somehow "not as bad" as the violence women suffer at the hands of men. True feminism is a fight for equality and freedom — and these values must, by definition, apply both to women and to men.

(There is, of course, a vociferous band of pseudo-feminists around who want to return us to a Victorian value-system through lop-sided rape law and the restriction of women's freedom of choice. I like to call this the "Stockholm Syndrome" school of feminism.)

(more: Parity)

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8 days to go   (6.9.10)

Moderate training the last few days, including two near-death experiences. One is being reported to the police in the morning. On the plus side, the bike shop fixed my broken bolt for free.

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Nuttery   (4.9.10)

Further to my previous post on John Bangs, Bruce Anderson writes:

If he did not know before, Michael Gove is now aware just how hard the educational wreckers will fight to preserve their bog-standard comprehensives. Every Easter, the National Union of Teachers' conference persuades hard-pressed parents to go on paying the school fees.

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Fair vs. Progressive   (1.9.10)

Guido makes a similar point to mine regarding the "regressive budget".

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Love your enemy (but not his views)   (1.9.10)

So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is currently imploring assorted others to "disagree with respect" in making their protests when the Pope visits the UK in a couple of weeks' time. Well, yes and no — since "disagreeing with respect" has at least two meanings.

The first is of a familiar, political kind — ie, a respect for the right of the Pope not only to visit the UK, but to hold and voice unpopular views. This right should indeed be respected, not because he is a head of state or religious leader, but because he is a person with the same fundamental rights as any other person.

The second is of a fuzzier, relativistic kind — ie, a respect for the views themselves. Yet nobody is under any obligation to respect any of the Pope's views; and indeed, unless you are a moral relativist, you are surely under a duty to challenge the Pope's views, should they represent to your mind a distorted moral agenda. Indeed, to ask for the kind of "respect" the LGCM seem to be politely requesting (!) implies a relativism on their part which reflects badly on their putative commitment to lesbian and gay rights. You either believe in lesbian and gay rights or you don't. If you do, you need to make the case, not shrink away from doing so out of "respect" for the views of others. If you don't show your own views some respect, sure as shit no-one else is going to. Hence Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association must be right to say:

As a head of a state which many see as enormously destructive of human rights and equality on the international stage it is legitimate and morally right to question him, and the idea that heads of states should receive automatic "respect" because they also happen to be religious leaders we see as entirely mistaken.

In short: respect the person, but not (necessarily) his views or actions. A quintessentially liberal stance; and, ironically, one which the Pope Formerly Known As Cardinal Ratzinger endorsed in his 1986 letter "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons". On the one hand, respect for homosexual persons:

The particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin. [...] It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the church's pastors wherever in occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endanger the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each persons must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

And on the other hand, not (necessarily) respect for homosexual views or actions:

In the discussion which followed the publication of the [1975] declaration [...] an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. [...] It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.

I'm hardly the Pope's biggest fan; and indeed, I disrespectfully disagree with the views just quoted. I have no respect for the rationale in operation.

So if not respect for the Pope's views, what is in order during the Pope's visit? Well, my own response was to schedule a bike ride to France for his whole trip. (Vive la Revolution!) But seriously. Rather than asking protest groups to acquiesce to these views out of "respect", I think the LGCM could more constructively advocate greater understanding of the Pope's view. I imagine few people in the Protest the Pope group are aware of Ratzinger's 1986 letter, of its commendable certainty in defending the dignity of homosexual persons, or of the honesty it achieved in articulating the mainstream Catholic view of sexuality, however misguided I and hundreds of millions of others think that view is. It makes no sense to "respect" views you disapprove of; but it makes just as little sense to disrespect views that you do not understand.

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