Wednesday, April 23, 2008
It may be strange for a Scot to write a post on St George's day, but I only ask that you read this through to the end.
I've told Minima that I hope she participates in the St George's day celebrations, such as they are, at her school, being somebody born in England. Would that everybody in this country celebrated the land they live in. I'm not saying that folk should try to forget their cultural inheritance as Muslims, Slavs, Scots or whatever, merely that if they find English culture difficult to swallow then perhaps they could look for a domicile that is more suited to the taste of their ideological palate.
There is a rich interchange between our borders. According to the Levernhulme Trust, the 2001 census found that 800,000 Scots made up England's largest single ethnic minority at 2% of her population (although my claculator puts it at just over 1.3%). Corby, a former steel-town in Northants, was famous for being full of people speaking with a Scottish accent, many of whom had never left England.
So what went wrong?
One policy over the rest represents the problem many English people have with Scotland:
abolition of prescription charges. The explanatory notes for the bill state that the immediate effect of this would be a saving of £1.5m in administration fees at a cost of £45m to fund prescriptions, with savings forseen to rise as people comply with medication régimes more fully, and therefore need less episodes of hospitalisation.
I hope it works. I say this, because Scottish people in need of medication are being used in this cynical ploy on the part of the Scottish National Party - the major party of opposition in the Scottish Executive until the 2007 general election, which saw it become the party of government - just as much as English taxpayers. Its purpose is to increase resentment against Scotland in its southern neighbour, and increase calls for a devolved English parliament, which would bring Scotland closer to secession from the UK. There is a plethora of campaigns to introduce free prescriptions in England, but, due to the number of unregularised inhabitants being literally an unknown quantity, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that such a scheme would be fiscally impossible. Meanwhile, English people who have paid tax here all their lives and cannot now get the help they need are left to look to the north in despair.
Meanwhile the Barnett formula, introduced in the late 1970's as a "temporary measure
prior to Scottish devolution", continues to be applied, redistributing government income from England to Scotland to subsidise a situation which sees, as Alex Salmond, First Minister, admits, 17% of the population on benefits. I can see the Wallace and the Bruce hanging their heads in shame at the thought such a large part of their country's populace dependent on benefits, paid in no small part by the country they fought to keep their land independent of.
As a member of the Campaign for an English Parliament, I see no problem with English devolution or even secession. There have been strong ties between England and Scotland since long before the Union of the Crowns in 1603, let alone that of the Parliaments in 1707. It's not appreciated widely enough that the latter year marked the abolition of the English Parliament as well as that of the Scottish one. Now Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom have Parliaments, but England has none.
The problem, indeed the elephant in the room, is the European Union. The monies presently going to Scotland, and to Wales and Northern Ireland, through the Barnett Formula would simply be replaced by EU development grants in a massive exercise of disempowerment of the Scottish people - and further alienation of the English - that would be worthy of St Claire-Rayner, patron of professional victims.
I believe that the European Coal and Steel Community was a truly visionary concept, locking France and (West) Germany into a contract which damped down the nightmare of the Franco-Teutonic tinderbox igniting a fourth inferno; but the mission-drift of its successor organisations has avalanched out of control. Like the trusting denizens of Troy heaving the Greeks' gift into their midst, successive governments have voted swathes of European laws into our legal systems until the internal haemorrhage of our identity threatens to leave us more culturally anaemic than any other European nation.
Look at the flag above. Depicted on it is a cross, the sign of a Christian country. If anybody wanted to label some of England's acts as unChristian, I hope they would soon find themselves in a very interesting discussion about whether the governments and citizens of other countries act in accordance with those countries' majority religions.
This proud nation has never been successfully invaded (officially, at least) since 1066. I hope that England comes to stand free of the Brussels Trojan horse, and relates to its neighbours and European (and global) cousins through the good old fashioned methods of trade links coupled with a modern appreciation of the horrors of war.
Because once the European constitution creeps out of the belly of the treaty, and the EU flag flies higher than any other in Whitehall, this will be an occupied country. And the question then will be: Whence the resistance?
top ten songs about England
this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England
Happy St George's Day!
Saturday, April 19, 2008
This was advertised in the window of the pagan bookshop in Mill Road, where you get the odd good thriller on the 50p table outside, as a rally "against climate chaos" in the Marketplace. It was promoting the inclusion of shipping and aviation emmissions in forthcoming climate change legislation, ie the proposed enactment of March 2007's Draft Climate Change Bill.
I had hoped to barge into an uproar of student activists, be outraged by their nihilism, offended by their adherence to the ideological orthodoxy of radical militant atheism, incensed by their refusal to contemplate anything outside the realm of their inexperienced wisdom: in other words, to be as happy as a pig in muck.
Instead, I met a couple of middle-aged folk who worship at the same church as me, with some of their friends, braving the drizzle to man a disregarded stall outside the front doors of the Guildhall (right), solemnly trying to give away their leaflets on the Climate Change Bill. And the World Development Movement. And a map of "Fairtrade Cambridge".
I have to admire the pluck of my acquaintances - the Socialist Workers' Party had a stall nearby and had tried to shunt them away from the plum location of the doors on the basis that they were the only anti-Nazi organisation present. The Anti-Nazi League used to be their recruiting sergeant, but this has been replaced by Rock against Racism; maybe they realised that supporting Palestinians on an anti-Nazi basis was unrealistic, as it is not uncommon for Mein Kampf to be found in Muslim bookshops in London, under the pretext, acording to its translator Luis al-Haj, that "National Socialism did not die with the death of its herald. Rather, its seeds multiplied under each star." Given that RAR represents "racists" by a picture of Adolf Hitler shooting himself in the head (see hyperlinked pic, left), what are their conclusions about those Palestinians who buy Hitler's Mein Kampf? I think I detect an own goal...
Anyway, I started talking about the impact of plastic bags on the environment with one of the campaigners, who seemed satisfied that Cambridge Link-Up was refusing to recycle Tesco's carrier-bags, but seemed wrong-footed when I informed her of the reason, that Tesco's carrier bags decomposed too quickly to make lasting products. She then advised me not to get hung-up on bags.
The central thesis of their reason for being there wasn't up for discussion. They were distributing postcards in the shape of a jumbo-jet, which said on the back:
Dear Gordon Brown,
Would you sanction a drink driving law that ignores the effects of whisky? Excluding aviation and shipping emissions from the new climate change bill is just as flawed. Other industries will need to play their part when the climate change bill becomes law, so why not aviation and shipping? It's unfair for these industries to be treated differently from the rest of the economy.
Air travel is the fastest growing source of the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change. if the UK is to fulfil its role in tackling climate change we need the climate change law to be tough and watertight. This means that emissions from international aviation and shipping need to be included from the outset when the climate change bill becomes law later this year. Please don't ignore these emissions, or the world's poor will pay the price. Yours etc...
It feels rather strange to be defending the Labour government, but clause 39, subsection 3 of the Draft Climate Change Bill states that, as far as shipping is concerned, the Bill's geographical scope extends no further than the borders of UK waters or the UK continental shelf.
Section 5.8 of the introductory section of the Draft states, "The emissions reduction targets do not currently apply to carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation and shipping." The reason for this is that these were not covered in the Kyoto Accord, and arguments in favour of Great Britain making a commitment to do something which no other country in the world is required to do reminds me of the chants of the votaries of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which stated that if we divested ourselves of our means of self-defence, the playground bullies would be nice to us.
However, all is not lost: note 29, to para 5.22 of the introductory section, states that if international law were amended so that shipping and aviation emmissions were included in international targets, this would be adopted into UK law.
So far so fair. I have no problem with the concept of global warming 2.0, ie climate change. It's happened before. There seems to have been an agenda at one point to prove that global warming was a reality, but one of the major nails in the coffin of this dead dog was an expedition to the North Pole to show the world the effects of global warming, which had to be called off because a member of the expedition caught frostbite.
Climate change is nothing to be sneezed at. It portends the death of many ways of life, not to mention people. But the assumption that we, homo sapiens, are to blame for it, begs the question, what fuelled global warming when the most intelligent mammal around was the size of a dormouse? Methane from dinosaur windypops?
I will consider the concept of anthropogenic climate change seriously when scientists do me the courtesy of presenting me with serious science. A joint report analysing climate data from China, done by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA states that "station histories are not currently available". I'm not surprised, in the light of evidence from Douglas Keenan that some weather stations in China were moved from the upwind side of cities, where the temperature was lower, to the downwind side, where the wind had passed through the city and been heated. It was around this time that a picture of polar-bears playing on a melting iceberg in summer (left) was presented as something more sinister.
I am not in any sense a climate change sceptic. I believe it's happening. What I'm sceptical about is the self-appointed atheocracy who are pushing a recycled pantheism, demanding that everybody believe the same as them, because they are disturbed by the ability of ordinary people to accept God as well as to reject him.
Leaving the city with Minima, we listened for a while to an American street-preacher lay out his suooprt for creationism and opposition to the concept of the Big Bang (first proposed by Belgian Jesuit Georges Lemaître). I didn't agree with everything he said - despite the opinions of Dawkins and his dachshunds, getting Christians to agree on details can be like herding cats - but the way he answered his many critics with consistency, courage and aplomb was moving. I hope I meet that young man again.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I've been wondering recently if I'm the only person to notice that the Government's biggest agency, the NHS, is obsessed with collecting personal data concerning, but but in no way confined to, ethnicity.
For example, my brother Asinus's wife Patientia recently came home from a visit to friends, and brought with her an unwanted souvenir in the form of a very painful toothache. Now this is a woman who, when in labour, was attached to a contractions monitor; the lines were jiggling like an oscilloscope measuring a sonic boom, and she was reclined reading a woman's magazine.
Patientia was reluctant to go to A&E, so Asinus called NHS Direct and asked the lady on the other end of the line if she could confirm the opinion that his wife should go to the hospital, given that she was in severe dental pain. The woman on the other side proceeded to ask Asinus's address, and got his postcode wrong several times, despite his having spelt it out both conventionally and using the phonetic alphabet. He patiently told her that no, his wife's lips weren't blue, she was not having trouble breathing and hadn't taken more painkillers than the packaging advised, while repeating his original query several times.
The point at which he hung up was when the woman asked him Patientia's ethnic origin, then announced that she was going to put him on hold to wait to talk to a clinical advisor, this being whom he thought he had been addressing all the time. (The clinical advisor phoned him soon afterwards to say that ethnic origin was one of a number of pieces of information required to prioritise calls - by which time, following Professor Calculus's avuncular advice, Patientia was in a taxi headed for Addenbrooke's, but that's another story.)
Again, the other day Minima came home from school with a leaflet entitled Why your child's weight matters. It informs us:
"Children...are now having their height and weight measured as part of the National Child Measurement Programme [duh], which takes place every year...Trained staff, such as a school nurse, will weigh and measure your child. Care is taken that this is done in a sensitive manner and your child's results will not be disclosed to teachers or other children. Though you do not
have to participate, we do urge you to encourage your child to take part."
We are informed that, the weighing having been done, "your local NHS primary care trust will hold the information along with some other details, including your child's date of birth and school. "
Ok, so far so fair, but then Minima's head-teacher says in her accompanying letter that the "other details" are her sex, postcode and, guess what, ethnicity. The leaflet continues, "The PCT will send this information securely to the Department of Health, with details that could identify your child (such as name and date of birth) removed." Very laudable, but the PCT still has the information, and would presumably give it to the DoH if required, under communication protocols which seek to establish "a constant stream of information, available to all [government agencies]".
While it may be a matter of concern for health authorities where my children lie on the line between skeletal and elephantine, a big kid's a big kid no matter whether it's white British, Afro-Carribean, Bangladeshi or a traveller. Categorising children as either normal, whatever that means, or obese, and overlaying an ethnic tag which is often meaningless - for example there's no ethnic category for British Asian or black Irish - is only going to lead to the "low self-esteem" which attracts "bullying and teasing" that the NHS helpfully advises us are the consequences of letting children eat like children.
Ethnic origin is important, but the culture in which we live is at least as much so. I'll always be a Jock, but earning a living in England is more important to me than papering my walls with tartan, reciting poetry that sounds half-foreign to most Scots, and participating in the seasonal ritual humiliation of watching my national football team underperform.
However, former Cambridgeshire councillor Robin Page (right) found himself on the wrong end of a hand-wringing fest for anxious white liberals when he was arrested for saying that he wanted to have the same rights as "a black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum-seeking, one-legged, lesbian lorry driver". There was a complaint, presumably from one of the region's community of peripatetic herbivorous unipedes, but Mr Page ended up being paid £2000 in compensation for wrongful arrest. Happily, he's standing for election again.
Meanwhile, Minima, Minora and (hopefully) the rest of the draughty old fen's children can be assured in the knowledge that we love them no matter their body-shapes. And if they put on weight, which is not necessarily the same as being clinically obese and should not be deliberately confused with it, so what? They can always phone NHS Direct for slimming advice and to assure the operator that they're not in the process of dying, just flabby.
I should add in closing that this is an equal opportunities blog. If any black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum-seeking, one-legged, lesbian lorry-driver feels I have offended her, she need only drive me to the nearest greasy-spoon and buy me a bacon sarnie so we can talk it over.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
After finishing my shift in Cambridge the other day, I went to the launch of a new company. I enjoy going to entrepreneurial launches, I like the free grub.
Cambridge Link-up is a company that has been started by people who are homeless, who have been so in the past, or are vulnerably housed; it has its own board, bank-account and constitution.
It also has its own web-page, which includes information on organisations that can be contacted in time of crisis.
The Link-Up project started with a radio show called Homeless Truths on Cambridge's community station, 209radio, which can be heard in the Cambridge region on, confusingly, 105FM. It was and is a groundbreaking project, where homeless people would chat on-air with various individuals and bodies who might come into contact with them, the most famous, according to the Guardian (so it must be true), being a conversation with police officers.
It started as something for people to do - but sometimes something to do is the keystone to building a better life. Cambridge City Council tells us:
Research has shown that giving people an opportunity to
focus on regular activities, including work - offers a key route out of
homelessness. In addition engaging in occupation is seen as a central mechanism
of health (Wilcock, 1998). Studies have found that various types of activity
(including productive, educational, leisure, social and physical activities)
benefit health and wellbeing.
The citation is from a short document called "Journeys out of Loneliness" by Kim Wilcock. It was written for Help the Aged to look at ways of empowering homeless and formerly homeless older people to sustain a new way of living, but I think this short passage is worth looking at as pertaining to homeless people of any age:
"Lack of meaningful activity was a strong theme in interviews...Regular engagement in activity is vital for psychological well-being and quality of life...Meaningful activities can provide a sense of purpose and a continued role in life. Participation in activities can reduce isolation and loneliness, develop interpersonal and social skills, build confidence and self-esteem, boost morale and improve motivation. Engagement in physical or mental activity can help to alleviate anxiety and depression and distract from drinking.
...Many participants wanted to access activities within the wider community and to
expand their social networks outside homelessness provision.
"Participants were interested in a wide range of activities, including social, leisure, physical and educational activities and volunteering. [They] wanted to
participate in meaningful activities, where they would have opportunities to share
their skills with others and feel valued."
Link-up is a bottom-up enterprise where people from the above-mentioned groups, who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness or threatened homelessness, can make products from the flotsam and jetsam of settled life for sale some Sundays at Cambridge's Arts, Crafts and Farmers' Market. For example, they make various goods from recovered plastic bags. One is a shopping-bag in the old string-style, crocheted from the bags, another a mobile-phone holder knitted from the things. Handbags are ironed from layered bags, with the desired logo facing upwards (how long before somebody asks for one with the Harrods logo showing?)
Something that initially worried me was that Link-up isn't collecting Tesco's carrier bags for recycling, which led me to think "oh boy, here we go again..." but Kirsten Lavers, editor of the Willow Walker, informed me that the trouble with Tesco's carrier-bags is their biodegradability; they deteriorate faster than any other bag the project has worked with.
Other products include hats knitted from videotape, presented in video boxes. It occurred to me that if they could do anything with DVD's I'd finally have something useful to do with High School Musical, but that's another story. There are ashtrays made from beer-cans, which, when inverted, can hold tea-lights. They're somewhat non-PC, which is a point in favour of them in my book, although the sharp edges may need worked on for people taking them back to households with children.
There are many factors contributing to homelessness which have been aired extensively elsewhere. In Cambridge, the 2003-2008 homelessness strategy identifies an additional factor, "a tolerant community with a tradition of social responsibility" which acts as a "pull" mechanism for people with difficulties maintaining tenancies from other parts of the UK. This tolerance, coupled with the city's proximity to London, can make Cambridge seem a more attractive option for people who don't feel settled than it turns out to be when they get here - Jung once commented on our self-defeating propensity to run away from psychological challenges geographically.
But perhaps settled people in Cambridge are focussing too much on the problems that homeless people bring to the city, and not enough on the fact that most of these problems do not originate with the homeless. As I've chewed over before, some brewers and shops are making a killing by selling 9% lager. I've never seen these beverages at a first night, a dinner party or indeed any form of party: the players involved in its manufacture and distribution know exactly what market they are targeting and why.
Some homeless people inject heroin; to render the main variety available in the UK soluble, it needs to be acidified. Citric and ascorbic acid, when not obtained from a needle exchange, are available in various outlets in Cambridge, as they lock the flavour into some exotic foods and can be used to make lemonade, etc. When some of these outlets found out that the acids had risen in popularity and also why, they put the prices up.
Both of these practices can be found in Mill Road, where the self-appointed guardians of the city's ideological rectitude are wont to protest about the scandal of a supermarket setting up a small outlet, while the real scandals pass unremarked under their noses, perpetrated by some of the very businesses they affect to be speaking for.
And, in the last analysis, if we want drug-takers who inflict harm on our quality of life to have their potential for harm curtailed, why don't we look at the cocaine-fuelled madness in the City, then reflect on its relation to income-gobbling mortgages and the pound's disappearing value?
Then we should perhaps consider things we do ourselves that harm those around us, and decide whether we are the best people to throw the first stone. Or if that's not your thing, consider the coming storm that will be affecting credit and mortgages, and think on: if the worst should come to the worst, wouldn't you like there to be pathways whereby you or your loved ones could climb back out of misery?
The pictures of five of the pioneers of these pathways in Cambridge, who are seeking to re-engage with society by tying themselves into it through work and its associated social benefits, are above. Click on the pictures and you will be taken to their stories as told to the special edition of the Willow Walker that celebrated the launch of Cambridge Link-Up. Look at the faces and read the stories. You might not agree with everything they say - I don't - but reflect that until we engage with those we sometimes might not want to think about, we will see not people but problems, and try to impose solutions to those "problems" from the top down. And as we've all experienced in recent years, that just doesn't work.