NEWFRED

 

Alan Turing   (31.3.11)

Fifty-nine years ago today, Alan Turing, "computer technology pioneer and breaker of the Enigma code, was put on trial for homosexual acts. Found guilty and ordered to undergo humiliating hormone therapy, Turing committed suicide two years later" at the age of 41.

One of the good things Gordon Brown did in his last year in office was to articulate an official apology to Turing on behalf of the British government. Manchester also has a memorial to Turing half way between the Institute of Technology and the gay village, and has named part of the city's intermediate ring road after him (the Alan Turing Way).

The anniversary is a reminder of the risks to human life, health, and dignity that can be posed by illiberal legislation.

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Finkelstein on Miliband   (31.3.11)

Angered by Ed Miliband's sorry excuse for a speech last Saturday, Daniel Finkelstein writes in yesterday's Times (£) assessing Miliband's comparison of himself to Nelson Mandela, the Suffragettes, and Martin Luther King:

[quoting Mandela] "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Thus spoke Nelson Mandela as his trial for sabotage opened before the South African Supreme Court in 1964. An entire lifetime in prison lay ahead of him. I feel sure that Madiba would have phrased his appeal differently if the ideal he was defending was the funding for Staines Citizens' Advice Bureau.

On Saturday, just after lunch, Ed Miliband addressed the TUC march against the cuts. An entire afternoon in Primrose Hill Patisserie lay ahead of him. He compared his "struggle" (yes, I promise you, he really did call it that) to those embarked upon by the suffragettes, the civil rights movement in America's deep South and Mandela's African National Congress (he left out Gandhi, who is, I'm told, furious at the snub. In the process he managed to be absurd, offensive and, unintentionally, highly revealing.

[...] My objection to Mr Miliband's appropriation of the civil rights movement and the fight against apartheid was not [...] primarily the self-aggrandisement. It is not the suggestion that he, Ed Miliband, is up there with Martin Luther King. I am offended, instead, by the idea that Martin Luther King -- that great hero, that martyr for justice -- is down there with Ed Miliband.

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Rural racism   (30.3.11)

ROFL. In other words, "church-going," but not too Christian, old boy.

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Further Grauniad Hypocrisy   (28.3.11)

Bagehot on Miliband's Predicament   (28.3.11)

Bagehot sums up Miliband's predicament well (although he skates over his total disingenuity: both in Miliband's marching for "The Alternative" when he knows full well that Labour's alternative is mighty similar to coalition policy; and in Miliband's hubristic association between himself and the American movement for civil rights, the anti-apartheid struggle, etc.):

I think Mr Miliband's problem boils down to this. Most people in this country, including a lot of people I met on the march today, think that Britain faces a period of painful decisions and choices, because the country has been spending too much. Within that majority, there are people who are (for variously selfless and selfish reasons) attracted to a Keynesian argument that deep, front-loaded cuts are counter-productive, and so some painful decisions should be postponed. That is an intellectually respectable argument: this newspaper does not agree with it, but there are people of goodwill on both sides of the debate.

Then there is a hard core of people who simply do not accept that the money has run out. These flat-earthers think that there need not be any cuts, because if you only taxed the banks/bankers/multinationals/tax avoiders/the rich a lot more, you would unearth a hidden money pot filled with so many billions that we could keep spending as before. I don't think Mr Miliband agrees with them. I don't think most voters in Britain agree with them. I don't think even most of the marchers in Hyde Park agree with that hard core.

But that hard core has a firm grip on Labour's base, as could be seen on Friday in Nottingham. And Mr Miliband, by endorsing the wider anti-cuts movement, risks becoming associated with that hard core and their breathtaking lack of realism.

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Equally pigeon-holed   (27.3.11)

This seems like an incredibly stupid idea. Immediate thoughts. First, is it not unethical for the state to quiz anyone on their sexuality in this way? A violation of privacy, etc. And is it not worse when children are the ones being quizzed? How would parental consent be obtained? Are there not ethical concerns in obtaining parental consent for such a question to put to their children? Second, apparently "The watchdog is keen to ensure that LGB young people are not told that their sexuality is a "phase" that will pass". Fine. And yet for some people, although not for most, adolescent homosexuality or heterosexuality is indeed a passing phase. Why, then, the need to put people in boxes which pretend to permanence? Third, why the need to put people into such boxes at all? Sexuality is a broad and highly complex spectrum of desires, emotions, and feelings which are probably in some kind of perpetual flux. Fourth, if an eleven-year-old voluntarily identifies their sexuality and wants to tell the world about it, good for them. But why on earth should they be forced or encouraged to reflect in this way, if it has not come to them naturally? Indeed, why should anyone of any age be asked to do this? Like the age of consent, it makes people feel abnormal if they're not ready or able to identify in a way and by an age that a few legislators have plucked out of thin air.

The whole thing reinforces an unscientific, politicised view of sexuality: that it is fixed, consistent, predictable, public, and becomes so by a certain age. In short, a measure like this is dogmatic and deeply illiberal. Let's hope it's consigned to the enormous dustbin of naggy state policy.

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Rory Stewart on Libya   (27.3.11)

(I just commented on this article by Rory Stewart MP, via a friend's post on Facebook. Thought I might as well re-post here.)

Although it is more coherent than anything that has been written about intervention in Libya in the mainstream press recently, I still find this article bizarre.

He says he favours the no-fly zone, but presents an artificially impoverished a...rgument for it. The moral arguments he presents, both for and against, are not properly analysed: the two moral arguments against intervention (state sovereignty & "we armed Gaddafi") could equally (and I think more plausibly) be viewed as arguments for intervention. Gaddafi is in any reasonable assessment an illegitimate leader, so intervention (especially when it has been requested by rebel groups) can on this view be seen as a defence of state sovereignty rather than a violation of it. Similarly, if we armed Gaddafi, could it not be said that we also incur a moral responsibility to protect the people when he turns those weapons on them? Alternatively, we can see it as an irrelevant consideration. Does it make moral any difference whose weapons he is firing?

So, in short, the case is not as ambiguous as he wants it to seem. The other stuff, about "hyperactive actions", "over-intervention", is just so much hot air: whether true or not, general facts about Western hyperactivity or over-intervention are simply not to the point. The question is what should we do now, in these circumstances.

(Thx Matt)

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Martin Luther Miliband   (27.3.11)

It looks like Ed Miliband has been indulging in just a little bit too much Priyamvada Gopal! (Could we name a cocktail after her, too? It would have to be a bitter and self-contradictory tipple. Perhaps a Southern Comfort and sour grape juice?) Yesterday Gopal compared popular Middle Eastern uprisings against murderous despots to a bunch of people marching in Trafalgar Square in favour of slightly higher levels of public spending. I thought that comparison was an indignity. But today, Ed Miliband compared the Trafalgar Square bunch with... wait for it...

The suffragettes who fought for votes for women and won. The civil rights movement in America that fought against racism and won. The anti-apartheid movement that fought the horror of that system and won.

Where Priyamvada Gopal fears to tread, there -- insanely, offensively, unashamedly -- goes Ed Miliband.

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Andrew Lansley   (26.3.11)

Ha! Aren't The Yoof all Apathetic and Depoliticised?! I probably disagree with almost all of MC NxtGen's points, but this is catchy stuff. One thing's for sure: it's a more sophisticated political critique than Priyamvada Gopal has ever managed. He's also from Loughborough!

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Go, pal   (26.3.11)

Every day a new indignity for The Guardian this week. First Jeremy Corbyn, then Seamus Milne, now Priyamvada Gopal -- after whom a dubious award was recently named.

So, what's today's wisdom?

British protesters' call to transform Trafalgar [Square] acknowledges that the struggles in the Middle East and those gathering momentum in Britain share a profound connection. Both are movements of the disempowered many against the small groups of wealthy elites who run our world, often in charmed collusion.

Oh, good grief, Charlie Brown!

I was in the middle of blogging about this myself, when I noticed that Norman Geras's attention again had been drawn to an absurd and patronising article of Gopal's:

Priyamvada Gopal is back. In case you miss it, let me draw your attention to her phrase 'Without obscuring real political differences' - she means between illiberal dictatorships and liberal democracies. I fear you might miss the quoted phrase because this is pretty much all she says to register that there are such political differences. Apart from those five words, her whole column is an exercise in marginalizing them. Her technique, in a nutshell, is to present the current protest movements in the Arab world and those against cuts in this country as being, alike, anti-capitalist, while minimizing the aspect of the demand for basic democratic rights and liberties in the Middle East. So Gopal scoffs at the idea that protesters there want 'to be treated as citizens not subjects'. She thinks it 'simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because "they" are fighting "blood-soaked" despots while "we", after all, live in liberal democracies'. The democracies are 'defanged'. And so forth.

This is the standard of comparative political analysis Ms Gopal favours. Obscure real differences while saying that you musn't. Depict as simplistic an emphasis on the difference, in particular, between the presence and the absence of democracy. The degree of stupidity it takes to think like this wouldn't disgrace a political ignoramus.

There's really nothing to add to that.

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There's nothing moral about Seumas Milne's intervention in The Guardian   (24.3.11)

Oh dear. Concerning Libya, there's more of the same in the Graun, today from the rag's Associate Editor, Seamus Milne. His article goes further than Jeremy Corbyn's pointless offering the other day, although thankfully Milne seems to have ditched the antisemitism for this one. I can't face unpacking the whole thing at the moment, and I'm not sure it would be a worthy task. But for now, let's just note how debased one of his points is. Top of the pile, how's this for moral reasoning?

There's also every chance that, as in Kosovo in 1999, the attack on Libya could actually increase repression and killing, while failing to resolve the underlying conflict.

"Every chance." I'm not sure about that. But let's admit that there's something of a chance. Does that make a difference? How does it strike you as a principle (perhaps a strong word by which to describe a Seumas Milne utterance) -- the idea that a risk of bad unintended consequences should serve categorically to rule out intervention in a situation where innocent lives are in immediate danger from a madman? If Person A has a gun trained on Person B's head, and I have a reasonable opportunity to disarm them, should I refrain from doing so because there is a risk it might go wrong, and person A might go on to kill persons C, D and E, too? Milne ignores the possibility that there might be equal if not greater moral hazards in not-acting in such dilemmas. And of course, to rebut Milne's point completely, there's a similar chance that not intervening could also "increase repression and killing, while failing to resolve the underlying conflict."

No time for any more of this. Go and read it for yourself; it's a fine work of comedy. His best joke -- it even warmed this hardened libertarian heart -- is to describe Colonel Gaddafi as a "pantomime villain". Oh, Seumas, you should be on the stage! Perhaps not a stage in Benghazi, though; I guess that actual Libyans, whose lives you entirely ignore, might not agree with the pantomime-villain assessment.

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Don't call me   (22.3.11)

I, like Jason Kottke, truly hate phone calls. Then so much the better that, according to the New York Times, nobody makes them any more:

"I literally never use the phone," Jonathan Adler, the interior designer, told me. (Alas, by phone, but it had to be.) "Sometimes I call my mother on the way to work because she'll be happy to chitty chat. But I just can't think of anyone else who'd want to talk to me." Then again, he doesn't want to be called, either. "I've learned not to press 'ignore' on my cellphone because then people know that you're there."

"I remember when I was growing up, the rule was, 'Don't call anyone after 10 p.m.,'" Mr. Adler said. "Now the rule is, 'Don't call anyone. Ever.'"

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Gillard's a conventional kinda gal   (22.3.11)

Contributing to a growing debate in Australia about gay marriage, Prime Minister Julia Gillard remarks that "I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future".

I acknowledge that Gillard has granted a conscience vote to her party in an upcoming parliamentary debate on marriage equality, so it's not like this statement serves to defend a party line. And I also have no strong view on marriage equality for the time being. But does Gillard really think that this passes for moral or political argument? Could she not even attempt to erect a dressing-screen of rationality in front of this naked conventionalism?

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Kant pay   (21.3.11)

My university colleagues, up in arms at Tory cu ts, may be heartened by Immanuel K nt's remuneration:

For a time, he worked as a private tutor, and then, at thirty-one, he received his first academic job, as an unsalaried lecturer, for which he was paid based on the number of students who showed up at his lectures. He was a popular and industrious lecturer, giving about twenty lectures a week on subjects including metaphysics, logic, ethics, law, geography, and anthropology.

Performance-related pay! And to think he didn't publish his first book until he was fifty-seven. I suppose it puts our publish-or-perish culture, increasingly absurd in the Kindle age, into perspective. (The quotation, by the way, is from Michael Sandel's Justice: What's The Right Thing To Do? It's an excellent overview of moral philosophy.)

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Pointless objections   (21.3.11)

Does this article by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North (lol), have a point?

So Gaddafi uses military force to crush civilians in his own country. Then popular Libyan rebel groups ask for intervention from the international community. The UN passes a resolution, unopposed, to take "all necessary measures" to stop further crushing of Libyan civilians. Given that there will be some, or indeed many, countervailing considerations in almost all candidate cases for international intervention, the case of Libya seems remarkably clear-cut.

So... what is Corbyn's point? Okay, let's be fair and try to find it. First, we have this:

The House of Commons is debating the government stance on UN resolution 1973, having been invited to give its approval or withhold it. It's a bit late, as the prime minister made a statement to the Commons on Friday and within 24 hours the bombing had started. We are presented with a fait accompli.

Fait accompli? I think not. Wiktionary defines a fait accompli as "An established fact. Often said of something irreversible or performed without going through standard procedure." Yet Corbyn correctly notes that the Commons debate is one about approval -- it is not one about authorization. The Prime Minister is vested with the power to take the country to war without broader parliamentary authorization. Corbyn is perfectly entitled to disagree with that assignment of prime ministerial power, and indeed to raise it in the Commons in his capacity as an MP, but David Cameron has presented no fait accompli, and he certainly hasn't violated "standard procedure". Second:

I welcome the popular demands all across the region, including Libya, for accountable government and an economic strategy that provides full employment for the burgeoning young populations.

Well, good for you, sir! I'm sure that burgeoning young population will give your sentiments the attention they deserve. But it seems like they might welcome some more material measures, in order that those popular demands might at least have a chance of being pursued -- rather than extinguished -- by their country's government. And does it really need saying? Who wouldn't welcome demands for accountable government and a well-managed economy? Hang on -- I know where this paragraph is going! I just felt the inimitable "but" of a pseudo-liberal approaching...

But abuses of human rights by Gaddafi's government didn't start three weeks ago, as any one of the Libyan opposition will attest, and a blind eye was turned to this when Libya said it was no longer developing weapons of mass destruction and British oil companies were encouraged by Tony Blair to strike long-term agreements.

Nice. Popular demands, accountable government, full employment, etc., etc., rhubarb, rhubarb. But the human rights abuses didn't start three weeks ago. Is it me, or does Corbyn's "but" not quite live up to our usual semantic expectations? For what two notions are actually in opposition between these two sentences (the one welcoming popular demands for reform, the other noting the longstanding nature of human rights abuses)? There is no inconsistency between them.

The thaw of Libya's relations with the West, over which Tony Blair presided, does indeed seem naive now. But naivety is easy to identify with the benefit of hindsight, as John Major recently pointed out. I recall that Labour MPs welcomed the thaw at the time as the preferable approach to securing political reform in Libya. So those abuses of human rights didn't start three weeks ago? So what? Does a prolonged period of inaction, or failed action, mean that right action is to be opposed when the political opportunity for it arises? And, since it is clear that the situation regarding the rights of the civilian population in Libya has worsened in recent weeks, is Corbyn saying that a political calculation, to refrain from intervention while less serious abuses were taking place, must be stuck to dogmatically even when those abuses worsen -- and even when a UN Resolution has been passed specifically authorizing military action in the wake of those more serious abuses?

Corbyn seems to miss a basic logical and moral truth: that just because you can't do the right thing everywhere all of the time, it doesn't follow that you can't do the right thing anywhere any of the time. In fact, David Cameron said exactly this in reply to Corbyn in the Commons on Friday:

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Abuses of human rights and the oppression of civilians are not unique to Libya. They may differ in degree, but they are not unique. Is the Prime Minister now suggesting that we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention in other countries where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman or Bahrain? I hope that he has thought this whole thing through, because we may well be involved in a civil war in Libya for some time to come.

The Prime Minister: I sometimes want to meet that argument with the answer that the fact that you cannot do the right thing everywhere does not mean that you should not do the right thing somewhere. A more detailed answer, however, is that what is happening in Libya is different. The situation is that of a people rising up against their leaders and wanting a more democratic future, and then us watching as, potentially, those people are destroyed by that dictator.

When Corbyn works out what his point is, will someone let me know?

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Shami in JC   (19.3.11)

There's a good interview with Shami Chakrabarti (my heroine) in the Jewish Chronicle: (via)

"I have witnessed the prevalence of a casual antisemitism that troubles me and it is probably greater today than it even was at times in my youth," she said.

Ms Chakrabarti, who grew up in north-west London as the daughter of immigrants from Calcutta, said her parents' Jewish friends had been a key influence on her during her youth.

But she had witnessed a worrying trend in recent years, especially on Israel. "I do think that sometimes it is because people are eliding, or think it is acceptable to elide, the criticism of Israeli government policy with peoples' race. And I have heard it done, and it turns my stomach.

"It's when, for example, the word Zionist is used in some parts of political debate, but not used in a political sense. It is not used to mean someone who believes in the State of Israel for example, but you feel it's used euphemistically and pejoratively. Or it's when people make assumptions about somebody's politics because they are Jewish. Or they make assumptions about how somebody will feel about some of the issues I work on, like anti-terror policy, because of their race. I have seen it, I have heard it, I have watched it - and it makes me incredibly uncomfortable."

Curiously, the Chronicle includes this sentence in its report: "Her comments mirror those made by the Conservative Baroness Warsi, who had witnessed a growing dinner-party Islamophobia." Perhaps the Jewish Chronicle is keen to come across as even-handed in all matters concerning prejudice. But I don't quite get how Chakrabarti's comments mirror Warsi's.

For a start, Islamophobia is not a form of racism: Muslims are not a race. Islamophobia does indeed describe a form of prejudice, but Islamophobia is ultimately a prejudice against the convictions someone holds, and against the religious faith and practices through which those convictions find expression. It would be inaccurate to claim, however, that prejudice against Muslims amounts to racism; it may often be exhibited by racist individuals, but that's neither here nor there. Amongst my left-wing friends I've experienced similar "dinner-party" prejudice against Christians. But it would be absurd for me to claim that prejudice against Christian convictions is on a par with racism, or even mirrors its form. In an open society, people are perfectly entitled to attack other people's convictions, and even to do so on the basis of prejudices. But as for their entitlement to attack people's race... well, not so much.

What Chakrabarti describes, by contrast, is the more morally noxious phenomenon of people identifying an individual's race with a set of presumed political beliefs, or presumed participation in a political programme. Such conflation of race with a host of negative moral, personal and political stereotypes is indeed, as Chakrabarti puts it, stomach-churning. But dinner-party Islamophobia, while surely to be opposed, is not ipso facto racism.

Update

There's an outline of some of the criticism of the term "Islamophobia" here. Note how most of these criticisms simply cannot be applied to antisemitism, or any other kind of racism.

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Inglish Back   (12.3.11)

"I failed the English Bac!"

Of course! A functioning education system is one where everyone passes. Why didn't I think of that before?

*FACEPALM*

Andy Burnham says: "Two hundred and seventy schools got zero under the English Bac - it's as though those schools are doing nothing of value." Now there's a thought. Give that man an E grade in GCSE Media Studies!

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New BBC comedy show   (11.3.11)

"A BBC World News Debate will be screened next week on the topic ‘Is homosexuality un-African?’" I hope this will be an opportunity for panellists to demonstrate the absurdity of the question. It makes about as much sense as asking, "Are blue eyes un-British?" or "Is diabetes un-American?"

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Scott Mills III   (11.3.11)

Following the concerns that Anon and I raised, I contacted the BBC asking them to clarify whether the people featured in Scott Mills' documentary on BBC Three had given their consent to be identified. I received the following response:

Reference CAS-644228

Thanks for contacting the BBC with your enquiry.

No BBC documentary would show anyone without the explicit consent of the contributor concerned.

(previously: 1 2)

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Why Fundamentalists Are Obsessed With Gays   (10.3.11)

A perspective from the Moorfield Storey Institute blog:

Fundamentalists seem obsessed with the existence of gay people. They drum up crusades on homosexuality unlike any they mount against other “sins,” even far more serious isues like murder or rape. Why is this the case?

Here is their dilemma. Gay people exist and, worse yet, are asserting their right to equality before the law. The fundamentalist believes that Scripture, in no uncertain terms, condemns such people as sinners unworthy of the law’s protection. For the law to protect the rights of homosexuals is for the law to condone sin, at least in their mind.

But there is a discomfort as well. How does one condemn a man or woman for a fact of nature? Persecution of any group over shared genetic or natural traits went out of fashion with the defeat of the Nazis. So homosexuality must not be a natural predisposition that affects a certain, but relatively steady, percentage of the population. It must be a choice. And, if not a choice, then it is an illness that can be cured, or a demonic affliction that can be exorcised. But it cannot be an unalterable fact of nature.

For the fundamentalist, the Bible speaks on everything important. It says homosexuals are worthy of death and condemns them to eternal damnation. But, if homosexuality were a natural trait, as unchangeable as skin color, the deity who damns gays would be on par with the genocidal Nazis. Mounting evidence of a natural predisposition in regards to sexual orientation must be swept aside and entire organizations of Bible-believing Christians now exist to prove that homosexuality is a choice, and only a choice.

(Off-topic: About Moorfield Storey)

(via)

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Not such a mystery   (9.3.11)

"The reason remains a mystery," apparently. Perhaps so. But there is clearly a possible reason, and it's quite a straightforward one: providing access to the best possible healthcare (which is here understood as being the healthcare funded by the most resources) does not mean people will not still, under those circumstances, make choices which adversely affect their health. Indeed, it is arguable that having access to the best possible healthcare would reduce the perceived costs of such bad choices, and therefore in all likelihood increase the prevalence of people making bad choices. That the markers indicated here are ones connected to lifestyle choices -- cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes -- would seem to support not only the possibility but also the veracity of my explanation.

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More on fostering case   (9.3.11)

Classically Liberal addresses the anti-gay foster carers case, covering some similar points to me. CLS adds into the mix, however, the factor of "resources". He claims that the decisive factor in making the court's decision right is that a state-run system of fostering supports children with taxpayers' money, while ordinary biological parents support children with their own money. The reason this is a decisive factor is that, in his view, the state has no business using the funds of taxpayers to expedite the planting of bigotry in children's minds. As a justification for the court's decision, I don't find this argument convincing.

For a start, it is not empirically supported, at least in British society: almost all parents in this country receive taxpayers' money for the upbringing of children, through the child benefit system. However, the suggestion is not widely made that delivering child support in this way vests the state with any right (that it wouldn't otherwise have) to dictate to parents the values with which they must raise their children. Similarly, there are surely countless instances where the state performs or finances activities which some proportion of taxpayers, sometimes even a majority, will object to on grounds of conscience. Some police practices may fit this description. But again, it is not (by virtue of this fact alone) widely held that the state acts illegitimately in funding such practices.

Therefore, if the court's decision was right in this case -- and it may well be -- I think some other reason must be found to explain why.

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More on Mills   (8.3.11)

An anonymous commenter (hereafter Anon) recently responded to my post on Scott Mills' documentary about homophobia in Uganda. Here are his full comments:

I am a gay man of colour, a professional living and working in Britain, like Scott Mills, but I do not share his sanctimonious and frankly colonial relationship to the world. I find his 'revalations' incredibly naive, and his way of talking to people incredibly condescending. He could be a modern day Lawrence of Arabia, but without the patience of a T.E. Lawrence, and yet all the same 'white man's burden', updated for a white gay man of today. His complete lack of regard for the queer people he interviewed - showing their faces and their locations, which would be painfully easy for people around them to identify - shows a complete disregard for the actual conditions of vulnerability that people actually live in. Frankly, it is completely irresponsible for BBC not to notice this, and to allow this to be aired under the guise of educating the world. It is only someone who is as uninformed about the world as Mr Mills who can be surprised that people in other parts of the world do not enjoy the same rights as we do here. But why is that the case.. might we try to understand who is funding the spread of homophobic (and racist, sexist) christian fundamentalism? American churches, perhaps? ... This is a woeful piece of work, and it only helps gay folks in the North feel sanctimonious about themselves, NOT actually understand and participate in positive change in the world at large.

.. and i must say the way he forces the lesbian woman to her terrible story of childhood rape, is just pure exploitation. again, shame on BBC for employing this completely insensitive man instead of the many competent people in this country who could have gone with a properly informed understanding, and who would not have had to force people to tears (and his response is a telling embarrassed chuckle as his footage has been taken). UGH.

..Scott Mills actually tells the kids at a school that in America gay people have the right to marry.. maybe he ought to have been taught something about sexuality in the US before his trip.. like the Defense of Marriage Act. ridiculous.

On one point I agree with Anon: namely the decision not to obscure the identities of the gay people Scott Mills interviewed. This concerned me as I watched the programme, but I presumed then (and continue to assume now) that they had given their consent to be identified in the film. Even so, I think an editorial decision on the part of the BBC to obscure their identities would have been a wise one, given the current witch-hunt in Uganda. If they did not give their consent to be identified, there are clearly serious ethical concerns to be raised with the BBC's production team. It should be pointed out, however, that the responsibility for this aspect of the show rests with the BBC's legal staff and producers, rather than with Mills himself.

I must disagree with Anon on some other points, though. Anon describes Mills' "sanctimonious and frankly colonial relationship to the world". I'm not sure I see this, and I'm all against sanctimonious and colonial relationships with the world. First, rather than being sanctimonious, I suggest that Mills is expressing outrage at the growth of a pernicious discourse of homophobia in Ugandan society, but particularly amongst its political elite. Expressing moral outrage does not always mean you are being sanctimonious; and I'd suggest that it is extremely hard to be sanctimonious about human rights, given that they have a fundamental moral status. They are not optional cultural extras, as every pseudo-liberal would tell you, but rather they form the necessary basis of a just society.

Second, I put it to Anon: what about Mills' programme was "colonial"? In colonial times, the beliefs and practices of "natives" were routinely dismissed by settlers as "exotic" -- these people were fundamentally "different from us", inhabiting an alien, inferior moral universe. It is this dehumanizing attitude which allowed otherwise respectable English gentlemen to perpetrate gross abuses of human rights while never for a moment imagining themselves to be acting immorally. This was a mindset not so different from the Nazis -- no surprise that the British invented concentration camps when settling India. So, back to Scott Mills. Colonial? I think not. In fact, Mills, although just as "ordinary bloke", demonstrates attitudes which are in stark contrast to this colonial mindset -- meeting gay people in Uganda as equals, and expressing an outrage that they are denied their rights. The outrage is not motivated by their different-ness or their black-ness or their Ugandan-ness. It is motivated by their humanity. Again I say: no colonialism here.

I'll just respond to one other of Anon's points now. He asks why Mills didn't dwell on the influence of American churches in funding homophobic churches and peddling bigoted theologies in Uganda. I agree with Anon that a better programme should have done this, for the sake of journalistic completeness; and anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I have very little time indeed for American homophobes. But the fact that Mills' programme did not achieve everything it could does not mean that the topics he did successfully cover are to be dismissed. I also think there is a good reason for not dwelling disproportionately on the role of American missionaries: doing so would imply that "everyday Ugandans" have only diminished control of their own destinies as political and moral beings; and this is simply not true. The fact is that it is Ugandan politicians who have drafted, tabled and re-tabled the Anti-Homosexuality Bill; it is Ugandan people who broadly support it; and it is Ugandan newspaper editors who publish the names and addresses of gay people on the front page of newspapers. Furthermore, to pin all of the blame for Uganda's ills on meddling American homophobes is to fall into the same victim-mentality as the Ugandan homophobes, who say again and again, "Homosexuality is the West's fault!"

Surely the postcolonial condition can infect the minds of colonised and coloniser alike: better, then, to treat each other as both equal actors and equal candidates in a universal landscape of human rights. And I believe that was the simple motivation behind Mills' documentary.

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Rawnsley on Lib Dems   (6.3.11)

Here's some outstanding analysis by Andrew Rawnsley of the Lib Dems' current electoral situation.

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International Women's Day   (6.3.11)

There is an excellent article in the Observer today by Mariella Frostrup, in which she explains why, a hundred years after its inception, we still need International Women's Day. She makes several perceptive points, which the Stockholm School of feminism tends to miss (of which more in a moment). For example, Frostrup explains that feminism is -- or should be -- an egalitarian pursuit. Feminism is not about pursuing women's rights; it is about realizing the human rights of women -- human rights women and men all share.

On this basis she notes that it is "a battle we have all but won" in Britain, and that the real focus for women's emancipation should now be on the wider world: "[W]e are the lucky ones, living in a society where the possibility of justice, if not always the reality of it, exists. There are women all over the world to whom the bounty of our lives is utterly unimaginable."

Contrast Frostrup's passionate but eminently balanced article with this patronising tosh by Lucy Mangan. Mangan doesn't seem to believe that women exist outside Britain -- or, indeed, that jokes should be allowed, or alcoholics permitted to talk. And what hope have men got, even the feminists amongst them, when they are to be tarred with the same brush as Silvio Berlusconi? Taking one man to represent the attitudes of all men -- that sounds a bit like sexism to me! WHODDATHUNKIT.

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More on Manchester City Council   (5.3.11)

Andrew Bowman makes a similar observation to mine regarding the recent behaviour of Manchester City Council:

Labour-run councils have a difficult balancing act; implementing cuts while pinning the blame on the coalition. Unfortunately, this is morphing into a means of insulating Labour councillors in Manchester from criticism, which is now labelled as playing into the hands of the government. It's also a little disingenuous given that the council was already making and planning major "efficiency savings" while Gordon Brown was in power.

People in Manchester don't seem to be buying it. Many residents seem unconvinced that the council leadership is fully considering community needs. Last week a campaign forced a U-turn over the closure of a local swimming pool (bizarrely lauded by Labour MP Gerald Kaufman in the House of Commons as a victory for Labour councillors). Other campaigners have been doggedly fighting the council and the Legal Services Commission to prevent devastating cuts to Manchester's legal advice services. The weekend before last, Leese was booed as he attempted to address parents protesting against the potential closure or outsourcing of Sure Start Centres.

Bowman argues that this shows Labour are just as much a part of the political "establishment" as the Tories and Lib Dems... and that the increasingly socialistic tone of local Labour politicians is a ruse. No shit. However, Bowman takes this as evidence of the systemic infection of neoliberalism in our political system; his implication being that we need less neoliberalism and more real socialism, which Labour cannot deliver because of their investiture in "the establishment".

The objection to this line of thinking is fairly obvious, inconvenient though it may be to Bowman's worldview. The budget deficit is not the fabrication of a neoliberal conspiracy. If the whole political class woke up tomorrow, cleansed of its apparently pervasive neoliberal instincts, the budget deficit would still exist, as would the question of what fiscal strategy is the best to deal with it. The idea that the present cuts can be only ideologically motivated is, therefore, nonsense of the highest order.

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Whacky Jacqui   (2.3.11)

Oh look, even now that Jacqui Smith has been kicked out of government AND parliament by the electorate, she's still keen to tell us all what we should be allowed to think and watch. As home secretary, Smith drove through some of the most illiberal censorship legislation passed in the modern era.

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