Friday, 30 October 2009

'My mind's made up,

don't confuse me with the facts!'

An old t-shirt I remember, you know, one of those ones your Mom puts you in when you're a kid because they think it's cute and there's nothing you can do about it because you don't yet have disposable income. The picture was of a cartoon turtle, arms folded across his chest defiantly, vigorously shaking his head. OR, it seems, they could have just put up a picture of this Labour government, fingers in ears, heads all shaking. Maybe that turtle should be Labour's new symbol.

Again the government has rejected the carefully researched findings of an apparently objective, non-political body. Well, that's not really the news -- they've already done that. Now they've gone and shot the messenger. Not only does this undermine public confidence in the government's social policy, it represents yet another missed opportunity to engage with progressive politics and policy, it's a boon to the Opposition, who won't be able to believe their luck: can you see the headlines? Come on! The guy's name is Professor Nutt!

I don't object in principle to governments rejecting scientific findings. On the contrary -- it is their duty to evaluate any such evidence and construct social policy based on decisions that necessarily need to take into account factors beyond the scientific evidence. It's just the particular way this government seems to reject findings it doesn't like, that doesn't fit it's increasingly narrow -- and unfortunately right-wing -- ideological bias. Their knees are jerking up so fast that my chin is really starting to hurt.

Like when all the evidence demonstrates that certain services are more effectively delivered by the state, using a publicly-owned, centrally-organised system, and they persist with privately-funded initiatives... Who says ideology is dead? Forgive me. I'm coming over all old-school Marxist again.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Excretera now on...

That's right! I finally get it, well, get it enough that I've started tweeting. So now you can enjoy not only long, drawn-out movements of excretera, but also micro-tweets, those tiny little grunties to get you through the day.

A few reasons for this monumental decision, actually. First, like I said, I actually geddit now. For weeks I stared blankly at my friends' tweets, the language of the thing completely going over my head. But once I figured out @s and #s and RT, i.e. once it started making sense, I was hooked. Especially, seguing neatly into reason #2, as I had a rather nasty case of the flu last week, and anything beyond 140 characters was beyond my powers of concentration.

('Was it H1N1?' everyone asks. How the fuck should I know? I was sick. It was flu. I would have asked the doctor had he let me within 100 metres of his surgery. Maybe. Does it matter? I felt shitty. And now I'm better.)

Finally, and (you'll be relieved to hear) more substantially, it was watching two terrific examples of what Twitter can do that made me realise that this is more than narcissistic self-promotion going on here. Oh, don't get me wrong, there's that, too, and that's fine. We've all been hanging ourselves out on the Book of Faces too long for anyone to complain about that anymore. No. It was, for me, first the completely deserved attacks on Jan Moir's despicable Daily Hate article on Steven Gately, and then exposing of Trafigura's and Cater-Ruck's super-injunction against The Guardian that made me really fall in love with Twitter. Anything that can make such loathsome assholes feel so uncomfortable is worthy of my love.

I may never have a 5-digit list of followers (for which I will be forever grateful to the masses), but I will, now, revel in my connectedness. So come on over, follow me. Let me know if you're already on there; I'm looking for interesting people to read (other than Stephen Fry, obviously).

Friday, 23 October 2009

That wasn't as satisfying as I might have hoped.

But then my hopes were never that high. True, Nick Griffin got a right proper pounding on Question Time tonight, and there was some comfort in that. But, as many of us expected, the very format of Question Time made it all seem like a hollow (and I hope not Pyrrhic) victory. The cheerleaders were out in force, and the BBC should be congratulated for both the producers' careful, or brilliant, selection of the audience, and for Dimbleby's performance, which was effective (though lacking a real knock-out blow; and was that really the best tie in which to confront the Spectre of Fascism?)

What I found most disappointing was entirely predictable. For instance, in the whole debate on whether the BNP have hijacked the glorious image of National Hero Winston Churchill, no one, not one person, questioned whether Churchill is at all deserving of this sacred reputation. He's not, by the way, in case you're wondering -- I wouldn't go so far to say that the BNP's claims for Churchill as on honorary member is 'correct', but it's not far off.

And that, really, was the problem. Everyone was so busy trying to stab at that disgusting pig on the panel that they still couldn't bring themselves to take on some of the sacred cows that lead to the recent electoral success of the BNP in the first place. Like whether Churchill really was the unbesmirchable hero everyone holds him to be. Like why nobody is calling UKIP -- a 'mainstream' party in the eyes of the media, but more like the bourgeois face of British xenophobia -- to task for their use of Churchill in election pamphlets. (See reminder on the right.) There was no real debate on immigration -- the parties, platitudes aside, fell back to their usual squabbling as to which of them was more against foreigners pouring onto these shores. And might there have been a sophisticated discussion of Britain relationship with Europe, given the BNP's hatred of them, too? Not likely. This fell into the usual childish noise of party-political squabbling.

There is an opinion that the far-right hasn't risen in Britain, not even in the 1930s, because that taste in the political spectrum in Britain is already well-catered for by the existing right (i.e. the Conservatives), which is plenty far-enough-right already, thanks. And though everyone had a nice pop at Nick Griffin and his despicable vitriol -- I won't call them 'ideas' or 'policies', which would give his hatred too much credence -- the continued failure of the politicians and media in this country to really challenge those leanings was in evidence on Question Time tonight. The strategy employed by so many panellists, to cast the Griffin and the BNP and Nazis completely misses the point. There is plenty of racist, authoritarian traditions indigenous to these shores for the British far-right to draw upon without them having to resort to importing the habits of Germans.

Some comment highlighted on the BBC website claimed that no one landed a knock-out punch tonight. Had Bonnie Greer have actually stood up and clocked him over the head, I would have been much happier. I'm petty that way.

Friday, 16 October 2009

A study in what, exactly?

I want to offer my initial, tentative support for the new Cambridge University-led study that graces The Guardian's front page today.

Too much too young: start school at six says key report

The report, to sum up, suggests that students in England begin formal lessons too early, and such structured schooling shouldn't begin until the age of six. It also offers a 'damning indictment of Labour's education record since 1997,' accusing the government of interventionism with 'Stalinist overtones' and narrowing the curriculum to a point that would shame Victorian institutions (not generally known for their plural, open approach to education).

Now, I talk to other parents, from a variety of schools, and I watch my son -- only turning six tomorrow, happy birthday Will! -- and his friends at school, all of varying levels of academic ability but generally bright, intelligent boys and girls, and I do see them being put-off school, the idea of education (learning to read, write, do sums, etc.), by what they feel is too much work. They complain of being tired, at the end of the day of suffering from headaches. Though, being five and six year olds, they have a tendency to whinge whether presented with anything other than exactly what they want to be doing at that very minute.  But yeah, I think the ideas in the report that I've read so far sound good: delaying the start of formal lessons until children are six, scrapping Sats and league tables that put undue stress on children, a general review of the ciriculumm and an attempt to introduce a greater variety of subjects (history, music, languages, for example).

But don't believe me. I'm just speaking anecdotally. And, frankly, that should mean jack-shit. In England, you/we seem to privilege the anecdote out of all proportion, with it's phobia of public intellectuals and 'don't confuse me with the facts' mind-set. Hence TheSun's campaign against Labour supported by anyone who have suffered in the last 12 years . I'm sorry, sirs, but having been in the military or having had a relative die in hospital of infection or being stabbed in the face does not give you any particular insight into the political system or how to best plan economic and social policy in this country, and should not entitle you to be regarded as 'an expert', except perhaps as, say, an expert in getting stabbed in the face, and not even then, really, because while you may have a particular insight as to what it's like to be stabbed in the face your experience is still not definitive; other people may have a very different idea as to what it means to be stabbed in the face, and I want to hear from them, too, before making up my mind. And from the looks of it, having endured these tragedies makes your political opinions even less reliable, even more skewed, as bitterness and the desperate search for someone to blame seems to have clouded your judgement.

(My wife keeps promising to photocopy a Joan Scott essay that addresses this -- I'll ask again and offer a review when I've had a look at it.)

So, again, don't take my words as some sort of definitive proof, or refutation, for this report. Read The Guardian's report. Or the BBC's.  Or anyone's. Read them all. Read the report itself, which I haven't yet done which is why I'm reserving judgement.

The government, alas, can't be bothered, and has dismissed it out of hand. Which is really, really sad. It seems another triumph of narrow, complacent and misguided ideology over genuine debate.

But perhaps this was inevitable. If anyone thinks the Conservatives would act any differently, despite how they are trying to play it, to exact maximum damage to Labour, is very, very silly. (Like, one might suggest, someone's who's judgement is so clouded by being stabbed repeatedly in the face that he thinks crime will be reduced in an increasingly inegalitarian Britain led by the Tories. Poor numpty.) The point is, if I might indulge in a little Foucaultian flourish, the increasingly rigorous discipline and training of our youth, and the increasingly incessant surveillance, management and normalisation of people in all sectors of society, particularly education, are not going to be abated by any report that suggests we move in a contrary direction, no matter how objective, conclusive or well-supported that proposed policy might be. Consider, as The Guardian explains:
The review is the biggest independent inquiry into primary education in four decades, based on 28 research surveys, 1,052 written submissions and 250 focus groups. It was undertaken by 14 authors, 66 research consultants and a 20-strong advisory committee at Cambridge University, led by Professor Robin Alexander, one of the more experienced educational academics in the country.
      Last night the review's conclusions were backed by every education union in England.
But no matter. Power, it seems, will have its way.

So, again, sorry for donning the Foucaultian cilice. It would be nice to see this as an ideological battle, one that we might be able to win by fighting the right fight and voting for the right people, but I don't see it happening. 

Friday, 9 October 2009

Beware Canadian-eating Americas

I love this kind of thing. And nice to see Ellen Page doing something really worthy for a change, not like that movie, whatever, she did.

What's not to like? Ignorant, uninformed Americans as Canadian-eating cannibals. On the surface, they're like us and they like us, but really they can't wait to get their genetically-perfect teeth into our tender, universal-health-cared for flesh. That's our National Grand Narrative, that. Don't give me any 'Oh! Being Canadian just means being not-American,' like that's some kind of bad thing. Yes. That's the point. That's why we got together in the first place. Google 'Canadian confederation' or something. That'll explain it. The whole idea of Canada came about to stop British colonists in North America being devouredby Americans. That's what their Manifest Destiny was really all about. Gobbling up everything on the continent. We banded together then, and we venture south now at our own peril. Look at poor Ellen. The same thing happened to Jim Carey. Sad.

I got the link from the CBC website, by the way.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Swine Flu? Forget it!

A much more serious, much more debilitating virus seems to be threatening countries on both sides of the Atlantic. This from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.:

Conservatives Extend Poll Leads Over Liberals

Honestly. There is little one can say other than What the Fuck?!? What is going on? I mean, you could almost understand the Tory lead in Britain; the Tories always do well here, and it's just the swing back around to the assholes you know. But in Canada? Where the Liberals are the natural party of government? (It's on the Constitution, isn't it? Someone get back to me on that.)

What I find amusing in this poll is that we've apparently stopped measuring leaders' approval, or do so only as an afterthought. Realising, I suppose, that no politicians are popular, not really, they've taking the more sensible route and to measuring just how deeply unpopular they are. But honestly. 39% of Canadians think Harper is doing a good job? I would have thought that this is the same 39% who think that it's ok to eat babies. You know. Properly cooked. They're not animals.

Well, I guess there's nothing for it. If you are one of those 39%, please do email me personally, so I can come to your house and find the leak.