Canterbury speaks   (31.1.11)

And since I am constantly bemoaning the silence of church leaders on these matters, I am duty bound to acknowledge and applaud Rowan Williams's recent comments on the murder of David Kato and the near-deportation of BN.

A shame it took the murder of Uganda's leader gay rights activist to provoke some moral leadership from Lambeth Palace, but I guess Rome wasn't reformed in a day.

For legal reasons, following a recent court ruling, the full name of BN has been removed from this article.

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Unbalanced wifebeater   (31.1.11)

Following up on that balance thing. What opposing view would this man provide balance for? Answers on a misogynistic, homophobic postcard.

(And fair play to the Mail for carrying the story.)

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Hari on homophobia   (29.1.11)

Good article by Johann Hari responding to the idiotic Melanie Phillips:

Is it “political correctness” and “McCarthyism” to try to ensure these kids can feel safe in their own schools – or is it basic decency? A few very mild proposals were made this week for how to change the attitudes behind this. They came from an excellent organization called Schools Out, which is run with a small grant from the tax-payer. They gave out a voluntary information pack in which they suggested that, to mark LGBT History Month, teachers acknowledge the existence of gay people in their lessons. They could teach in history about how Alan Turing played a vital role in saving the world from the Nazis and paved the way for the invention of the computer, only to be hounded to death for being gay. They could learn in science that homosexuality occurs in hundreds of species of animals. They could – yes! – maybe even look in maths lessons at the census data, figuring out how prevalent gay people are.

We know that these lessons work in making gay kids much safer. The Schools Health Education Unit found that homophobic violence was dramatically lower in schools that taught about homosexuality. Good schools like Stoke Newington Secondary that followed this program were assessed to have “virtually eliminated homophobic bullying.” That has a very powerful educational purpose: when gay kids feel safe, they can learn.

Yet these pragmatic policies to make kids safe were presented as a wicked plot to endanger children. We can’t stop the endemic intimidation and violence if every time there is a policy to do it, it is grossly distorted and demonized in this way.


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Repent or be punished   (29.1.11)

"Repent or be punished by God," says the pastor presiding at David Kato's funeral to gay Ugandans, almost echoing Michael Nazir-Ali's call on gay people to "repent and be changed".

And yet the Archbishop of Canterbury still seems to think that keeping advocates of homophobic violence in the Anglican fold is of the highest ecclesiastical and theological priority.

So it's not surprising that the majority of liberal society has decided Anglicanism is not the kind of communion worth taking.

Pointless pollution   (28.1.11)

This is a very pointless article. To save you reading it, it runs roughly something like this:

  1. Nobody talks about the dangers of air pollution to cyclists!
  2. There is no hard evidence of the dangers of air pollution to cyclists!
  3. Therefore we need to be much more scared about the dangers of air pollution to cyclists!

Alternatively, take a chill pill.

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David Kato murdered   (27.1.11)

...he who delivered me to you bears the greater guilt.

— John 19:11

Rolling Stone headlineConcerning pseudo-liberal Christian vacillations on the issue of homosexuality, is there a starker image of what is at stake than the brutal murder of David Kato? Yes, friends, there is the image of "Christians" in our midst who would sooner apologise for these acts of barbarity than make the case for gay rights.

("But it's what they believe...")

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Unbalanced balance   (27.1.11)

This is a very strange concept of "balance". If the BBC had been covering an interracial adoption, say, would they have chosen to interview a British National Party spokesman to comment on the event in order to "balance" their coverage? I very much doubt it. Providing balance does not mean getting the most batshit rightwing Christian, who has previously endorsed the death penalty for homosexuality, to comment on Elton John and David Furnish's child. Indeed, the very concept of balance would seem to imply choosing a representative position of similar "weight" on either side.

Editorial decisions like this do nobody any favours, except for the extremists who get air-time for no good reason. It makes an extreme position look like a representative one, and therefore exaggerates the scope of a disagreement the BBC is supposed simply to be reporting.

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Conflated Conflicts   (25.1.11)

This article about the Christian-hoteliers vs gay-couple case conflates two types of conflict, and reaches flawed conclusions as a result.

Mark Vernon is wrong to frame the issue in the following way:

Why should the rights of the gay couple overrule the rights of the Christian hoteliers who honestly believe homosexuality is wrong? Mr and Mrs Bull say it's against their Christian beliefs to allow unmarried couples to share a bed.

Such a framing implies that both parties had rights infringed. But the whole point of the court's ruling is that the hotelier does not have the right to refuse service on grounds of sexuality. The "right to freedom of religion" defence is totally fallacious: such a right concerns personal convictions, not practices which infringe the rights of others. Infringing the rights of others is precisely the threshold of legal action.

The conflation of conflicts here is between conflicts about convictions on the one hand, and conflicts about rights on the other. The whole point of a system of law is to assert the primacy of rights over convictions. It is therefore of no interest to the law that the Bulls believe homosexuality is wrong, much less that their belief is honestly held. The reason that the Bulls lost the case is that their rights were not infringed, while Hall's and Preddy's were.

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Melony Hog Wash   (24.1.11)

Oh, and while we're about it, Melanie Phillips is exhibiting almost as little logic as the former Boshop of Richester. Melony Fullups and I are in agreement about one item of political dogma, at least: that "We are in grave danger of turning thought into crime [...] Is it wrong to criminalise the giving of offence; is it right to criminalise disapproval?"

So she can write as many batshit crazy uninformed semi-made-up articles as she likes -- that's her right. But that's where the sense runs out, I'm afraid. Because she seems to think the fact that there are people shouting back at her means that her right is being infringed. It's not. Similarly, concerning the alleged "brainwashing"... well, would a curriculum designed by Melony consist of less brainwashing, do you think? Most education of young children is a form of brainwashing, if we're honest. I bet it wouldn't bother Our Melon if it was some conservative church doing the brainwashing. Then it'd be "teaching".

If it's all brainwashing, then, whatever we do, our responsibility must surely be to teach children the best lessons we can. I, like most rational human beings, think that this means giving children objective information, or at least a variety of perspectives, and the skills with which to judge them. The education system FullupOfMelony describes seems to fit that description pretty well.

Oh, and don't you just LOVE THE DAILY MASH!!!11

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This is the record of John   (24.1.11)

Hurrah for Elton John:

I have a wonderful career, a wonderful life ... [And yet] I don't have everything because I don't have the respect of people like the church or politicians who tell me that I'm not worthy, that I'm lesser because I'm gay. Well, fuck you!

And can you blame him? What with folk like Michael Nazir-Ali in this world, who wouldn't know theology if it slapped them in the face. If Nazir-Ali really believes that any child has only two parents, he has a seriously distorted view of what parental love is.

I join with Peter Tatchell in imploring Nazir-Ali to "repent his homophobia"!

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IFS on EMA   (20.1.11)

The IFS argues that a cost-benefit analysis of the EMA makes scrapping it a nonsense.

I am also struck by the irony of a government going to great lengths to make sure that there is cheap funding available for all university students (and rightly so), while removing even this basic level of support from those in further education.

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My prejudice is bigger than yours   (20.1.11)

I'm not sure that Baroness Warsi is the best person to be lecturing us on prejudice.

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Keep the EMA   (19.1.11)

Here are a some good reasons for retaining the Education Maintenance Allowance. As many have pointed out, it is not just about improving participation in the sense of increasing the number of people involved taking up further education, as the government seems to think. It is also about giving those in further education monetary resources with which to make the most of their studies (for example, by buying books) and by providing some opportunities to become independent learners. I hope these protests have some effect on government policy.

By assenting to this cut, the Lib Dems are in danger of losing sight of the fact that the key point about economic redistribution is that the those on low incomes should receive enough money to make their opportunities reasonably fair. The EMA is almost a model of "good" redistribution in this sense: it is paid on condition of participating fully in education (unlike, say, jobseeker's allowance); it is paid only to those who need the money (unlike, say, child benefit); and it produces the social good of equalising opportunities (unlike, say, housing benefit).


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Malcolm Thorne tributes   (19.1.11)

Mark Selby and Tom Ford make their tributes to Malcolm Thorne in the Leicester Mercury today:

Selby said: "I went to see him at Loros before the Masters and, even though he had been ill for some time, the news still came as a shock.

"He was like a second father to me and I owe everything to him. I would not be where I am now without him.

"He took me under his wing when I was starting out, helped me financially and drove me to all the tournaments.

"He was a very caring guy and put everyone else first, he was always looking out for you.

"That takes a special person and he will be sadly missed."

Ford, the world No.30, also admitted he would not be where he was now if it had not been for Malcolm.

"He gave me a chance when no-one else would," said Ford.

"I was too young to play at clubs, but he was the one who let me do so and supported me.

"He was the backbone of snooker and an awful lot of players, even the top ones, have a lot to thank him for."

Here's my own tribute to Malcolm from a couple of days ago.


£170Billiband   (18.1.11)

From The Economist's Blighty blog:

Political parties recently evicted from government, and headed by a new leader, should take the opportunity to admit past failings. Many in Westminster, including myself, expected the Labour Party to have by now acknowledged, and apologised for, the standout failing of its time in office: allowing public spending to run out of control in the years before the financial crisis. After the longest economic expansion in British history, the government should not have still been borrowing to spend. Instead of going into the recession with a warchest, it went in with a deficit. Recognise this error, say sorry, take the hit, and move on, would seem to be the intellectually honest and politically canny thing to do.

Instead, Ed Miliband has manouvered his party into a bizarre and extremely unpromising position. In recent op-eds, yesterday's speech to the Fabian Society conference, and today's appearance on the BBC, he has rejected the notion that Labour overspent. The 2.4% deficit the government was running would have been fine, he says, were it not for the banking crisis, which caused tax revenues to evaporate while requiring massive amounts to be spent on bailouts and fiscal stimuli. In other words, if only economic growth were endless, if only recessions did not happen, if only this pesky "economic cycle" thing would go away, governments could spend freely and perpetually. As many commentators have noted, this is grimly redolent of Gordon Brown's insistence that "boom and bust" is something that can be transcended, rather than a cold reality that governments must make preparations and provisions for.


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RIP Malcolm Thorne 1950-2011   (18.1.11)

Malcolm ThorneMalcolm Thorne, brother of the snooker legend Willie, has died after a long battle with cancer.

All my memories of Malc (as we knew him at the club, since everyone's names had by social convention to be shortened to a single syllable) are fond ones. I got to know him perhaps thirteen years ago now, when I set foot in Willie Thorne's club on Charles Street in Leicester for the first time. He set me up on a table to practise for free so that I could see how I liked the club. When I'd finished, he explained that the club did a deal for kids who wanted to practise and improve their game. We'd pay £10 a week, for which princely sum we were allowed to play for as long as we liked until 7pm each day.

I was a hopeless snooker player, but Malcolm had built up a club that was so warm and generous of spirit that even I, a decidedly socially awkward teenager, felt welcome, comfortable and encouraged there. Malc was an assertive but self-effacing presence in the club: unafraid to tell us off when tellings-off were in order, but never overbearing or self-important. Malc worked long hours managing the club, keeping us kids on the straight and narrow, and most of all organising weekly junior, handicap and pro-am tournaments. His tireless work on the junior snooker circuit sparked and nourished the careers of many -- Mark Selby, Jamie Cope, Tom Ford, Judd Trump and Ben Woollaston being some of the most recent successes to have benefited from Malc's diligence.

I count myself privileged to have known him for a few years and to have been able to compete alongside young players who have since reached the top level of their sport. Malcolm's was a life lived for others, and one I shall neither forget nor cease to be inspired by.


Liz   (17.1.11)

A work of genius. (thx A.C.)

That afternoon I had gone to the newsagent where Liz's article was discovered. It was horrible and windswept. I don't know what I had expected. A newsagent possibly. I'm not really sure.

There was no ceremony here, no policeman, just the article on a now dog-eared poster. I got the feeling the world is starting to forget Liz, that she'll become just another thumbnail on the Daily Mail website, along with Peter Hitchens, Jan Moir and that fucking lunatic Melanie Phillips.


'Not all men are Liz Jones,' he says, grinning. Maybe not. But one Liz Jones is all it takes.

(This, in case you were wondering.)

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A-level reform   (15.1.11)

My first reaction is that this seems like a good idea. My second reaction is that this could be creatively combined with a social service scheme for school leavers. A-levels in March followed by university applications and six months of social/community/voluntary work? Sounds good to me.

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Today you, tomorrow me   (15.1.11)

Here's a great story of simple human kindness:

I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice. Right as I am about to give up and just hitch out there a van pulls over and dude bounds out. He sizes the situation up and calls for his youngest daughter who speaks english. He conveys through her that he has a jack but it is too small for the Jeep so we will need to brace it. He produces a saw from the van and cuts a log out of a downed tree on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top, and bam, in business. I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn't careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off. (Read on...)


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Squeezed Miliband   (13.1.11)

The Guardian reports that

a shadow cabinet meeting on Tuesday [...] also enthusiastically endorsed [Miliband's] decision to insist that the deficit was not caused by chronic Labour overspending, but by a global financial crisis that resulted in recession and a calamitous collapse in tax revenues.

Hmm. Let's look at a pretty graph from The Spectator:


The Labour administration ran a budget deficit of around £30bn annually for SEVEN consecutive years BEFORE the financial crisis in late 2008. This was a period when the economy was booming, and the government should have been paying off debt -- not running up more of it.

This leads to a simple conclusion: Miliband is STILL deluded about his party's record on the economy. (via)

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One's middle is squeezed   (13.1.11)

"Have a heart!" I hear you exclaiming in response to my ungenerous lampoons of poor Sara and nouveau pauvre Charlotte.

So I'd now like to go on the record as imploring you to go and read a genuine tale of woe: a lady in her 80s, caring for a family of nutters, her life occupied day in, day out by community work. And all she's asking for is a bit of help with her heating.

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Squeezed middle in hidden hunger shocker   (10.1.11)

Fancy a giggle? Go and read this piece about Britain's "hidden hungry", a condition which primarily afflicts the "squeezed middle", and particularly those with luxury cars. Thankfully, I'm not sure that the article has a point. This is a sign of good journalism: reporting rather than pushing a narrative. But I'm deeply suspicious about the attitudes presented by the particular families interviewed. A bit of analysis is in order, and since I can't stomach more than one dose of this nonsense, let's just focus on the nouveau pauvre's tale of woe.

Sara (not her real name (!!!)) says that after her husband's work "dried up", "Suddenly we had no income and had used up all our savings. Any money we did have went quickly on paying the mortgage, and our credit cards were also maxed out. [...] We cut back on as many things as we could. Our first plan was to sell the car, as it's worth a fair bit, but we couldn't. Nobody wanted to buy it."

Her husband is, claims the article, a contractor. Contractors, of course, lack job security. Sara herself, as far as I can make out, does not work -- in spite of her children being of school age. I don't know about you, but if I was in a single-income household with no job security and two children to raise, I wouldn't be buying luxury cars or maxing out credit cards, and would make damn sure I had enough savings to EAT for more than a week. Yet "SUDDENLY we had no income". Alright, love. My heart bleeds.

She goes on to say that "I thought food parcels were only for lazy people [...] I just didn't think that I was going to be next. Nobody helps the people in the middle." Ah, the squeezed middle! Although I'm sure Sara wouldn't dream of voting for him, an Ed Milibandian sense of entitlement has clearly permeated as far as Salisbury. According to Sara and Ed Miliband, you see, nobody helps people in the middle. Except of course The Trussell Trust, which erm, ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE, INCLUDING SARA'S FAMILY. And there are thousands more charities in Britain helping people in need, because we live in a civilized society.

Sara seems to be aggrieved at having to take responsibility for her family's inability to manage their financial affairs. Ed Miliband, incidentally, is very keen to indulge such grief. The irony will not have occurred to either of them that Sara's affluence is possible only because we live in a society where people are free to manage -- and indeed mismanage -- their financial affairs. It doesn't follow that it is incumbent upon the welfare state to provide -- out of general taxation -- bridging loans to every financially illiterate and overextended middle class family in Christendom.

The only glaring journalistic error in the article is Cacciottolo's assertion that Sara's family are "unable to claim benefits". This is false. They are eligible for child benefit, which would provide enough to pay for their children's food.

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Oldham East and Saddleworth labour on   (9.1.11)

The left wing press are talking up the prospects of a Labour victory in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election this week. Under normal circumstances, polls are a relatively good indicator of an imminent election result. But by-elections under a coalition government are something of an unknown quantity in the UK, and tactical voting could yet make a big difference to the result.

Although there is widespread disenchantment amongst Lib Dem voters, there is also a loyal Lib Dem contingent. I'd be surprised if the Lib Dem vote completely deteriorated. In the Oldham East and Saddleworth election result last year, the combined Conservative and Lib Dem votes totalled 25,856, compared to Labour's 14,186. The Lib Dems finished only 103 votes adrift of Labour. This means that voters for the now-governing parties outnumbered Labour by almost 12,000.

I think the chances of a Lib Dem victory are higher than the left-wing press believe. Hyping a Labour victory is, ironically, likely to encourage tacital voting by Conservative voters. Calculating Conservative voters will realise that the Tory vote currently splits the Labour and Lib Dem vote, and many may choose to vote Lib Dem in an attempt to give victory to a governing party. Tactical voters are unlikely, however, to reveal their voting intentions to pollsters. The Tories have run a very low-key campaign, which might suggest they are trying to bring about just such a scenario.

This is without even considering the harm done to the Labour vote by the Phil Woolas scandal.

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Cause and correlation   (9.1.11)

Being totally uninformed on the subject, I have no view on the merits of Jack Straw's claims.

But I think there are two principles to note. First, contra Jack Straw. One of the most basic principles of statistics: a correlation does not imply a cause. Straw's claim that there is a disproportionate statistical propensity for men of Pakistani heritage to abuse white girls and women could be true, but this does not mean that the cause for this statistical state of affairs is to be found in the men's ethnicity. Men of Pakistani heritage may share some other circumstances, such as low socio-economic position or poor education, which are not necessarily connected with their ethnicity. If men of Pakistani heritage were to be disproportionately represented in that group of people having low socio-economic position or poor education, and if that group of people could be shown to be more likely to commit violent crime, then Straw's "racial" framing of the question would lead to fallacious conclusions. This is what Helen Brayley (quoted in the report) means when she says

When you jump in with thinking about race too quickly, you can miss a whole load of other things that are happening in other areas [...] By racially stereotyping this early on without a national scoping project... we don't know what the situation is in other areas around the country... you might be leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy of if people are looking for Asian offenders, they will only find Asian offenders.

Second, contra Straw's critics. Various people, including Keith Vaz, have implied that Straw's remarks are wrong because it is always prejudicial to identify trends based on race or ethnicity. I think this is a flawed view. Of course, it is always wrong to stereotype persons' character based on accidental facts about them (sex, race, sexuality, etc.). But it does not follow that trends therefore cannot be identified along those lines. For example, it would be an inaccurate stereotype to claim that "all gay men have AIDS"; but it would be just as inaccurate to deny the claim that "more gay men than straight men have AIDS". Jack Straw is not, therefore, peddling a stereotype when he claims that there is a greater incidence of abuse amongst men of Pakistani heritage. The claim may or may not be true, but that is an entirely different matter.

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Unsafe Unfair   (3.1.11)

It is a shame that a peer claiming to be a liberal, Lord Carlile, is apologising for the arbitrary, unjust and unnecessary control orders regime. Fundamental human rights -- such as the right to a fair trial -- can be sacrificed only in supreme emergency. For all the unsavoury threats to public security in Britain, we are not in such an emergency. Furthermore, the ways in which control orders have been deployed hitherto demonstrate that they are primarily political tools rather than judicial ones. Do we, the public, really want to acquiesce to a system of extrajudicial house arrest in the name of our own "security"?

Here are three reasons why you shouldn't support control orders either:

Liberty’s objections to control orders:

  • Unsafe – control orders allow potentially dangerous people to live at home with limited supervision. Some of these suspects have disappeared whilst under an order.
  • Unfair – control orders place unending restrictions on liberty and a raft of dehumanizing sanctions on people who may have no convictions and who can never clear their name.
  • Threat to fair trial – control orders by-pass criminal justice and the safeguards that guarantee fair trial.

Unsafe Unfair.

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Newfred is where Andrew Wilshere blogs about
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