Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How to run a country: start with emptying bins

The first summer that I spent in the Draughty Old Fen was rather hot - especially so for a Glasgow boy. Once, I forgot to leave the rubbish-bag out for the weekly collection. So I left it in the shed and, when it was time to put it out for the next week, went to fetch it in the dark. At first it slipped out of my grasp, so I put the light on - and to my horror saw the source of the slime: a line of maggots (some newly deceased) emerging from a small hole near the top.

Now we have twice-weekly collections, alternately of household rubbish and paper, tins, glass etc. There's a lot of houses in Cambridge city that are terraced with tiny gardens that are having trouble storing rubbish; so yesterday, Cambridge Conservative Party's Parliamentary Spokesman, Richard Normington, proposed a commonsense solution: go back to weekly collections. click to go to Richard Normington's homepage

I last saw Richard last Saturday at an Autumn lunch party held in St Edmund's College, in the Okinaga Room, which is the highest point in Cambridge. I didn't notice this at first, as I was too busy being annoyed by the pain from my twisted ankle. Then Richard gestured towards the panoramic window occupying six walls of the octagonal room, and the view took my breath away. All of Cambridge between the Room and the Gog Magog hills was laid out below me, and I realised what a beautiful city it was.

After drinkclick to go to Eric Pickles' homepages we had some shepherd's pie, following which Eric Pickles MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Local Government spoke. In a broad Yorkshire accent he iterated the point David Cameron has made, that we're not Ukip-lite, although the country, he said, needs our unique view on Europe.

Pickles' profile came to national prominence during the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, where Labour Party activists presented the Conservatives as "toffs" - a strategy which backfired spectacularly, to such an extent that Pickles later commented that he thought the Labour activists were working to get the Tories elected!

There are now 9,900 Conservative Councillors in Great Britain, and Eric stated it was time to move the left-of-centre consensus which served the purpose of getting some officers promoted just a little rightwards. He also took a question from a teenage girl concerned about standards of spelling in school, and in his answer referred (delicately) to a recent English exam where a pupil was awarded marks for answering a question merely with an expletive

Following on from that, academic, businessman and author Dr Simon Mitton spoke about the necessity for universities not to be "dumbed down"; they need to produce graduates who can cut it in the world of work, and they need to maintain their own reputation. I suppose that if schools were relieved of the burden of having to teach to the test, then quality graduates would not be the only benefit; we'd also get shop-assistants who can count, office-workers who can write letters, and people who can come back from work and enjoy a good book.

Richard Normington wrapped the thing up by echoing Eric Pickles' point that in local government we can show the country that a Conservative Government can be trusted, then went to be with his wife Stacey, who's just over nine months pregnant.

One of the many things I think you can trust the Conservatives to do is to come up with a commonsense solution to problems. Take the twice-weekly bin collections I referred to at the start. Liberal Democrat Councillor Colin Rosentiel, who heads the collection services, says that the option of weekly services is not an option. I don't doubt his liberal credentials, but his democratic ones are a bit dodgy - the recent Cambridge survey on collections didn't even have an option for weekly collections.

The start of a strategy might be gotten by, say, looking at the page on flies and bluebottles on the website of the Labour-dominated Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council which says: in hot conditions the time taken for eggs of the fly to become maggots and then a fly could be as little as 7 days, then continues: the source of the infestation should be removed. In other words, get your heads together and make the necessary financial adjustments to restore weekly bin collections.

All the best of luck to Richard and Stacey.

click to go to The Conservative party homepage

Sunday, October 26, 2008


click to read the Telegraph story on how this dress, worn by Vanessa Hudgens in High School Musical 3, has sold out at Asda's.  Oh joy.The first time I became aware of the concept of "tweenagers", which is apparently the name for children between infancy and the teens, was when Minima bothered us so much about the DVD for High School Musical that we bought her it, and I've been regretting it ever since. As if that weren't bad enough, Maxima, the turncoat, has come to like the damn thing and, having taken Minima to the third movie, now plans to see it again with her. Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me! (Sorry, I don't think it works in a US accent.)

So it was with some trepidation that I sat down with Minima to watch the 2007 version of Hairspray, starring John Travolta as the main character played by Divine in the 1988 original.

Although the transvestite actor - real name Harris Glenn Milstead - had shorn much of the camp aggression from his stage persona for the original, I still felt some discomfort at my daughters watching him and perhaps thinking his other films might be "safe". So we got the 2007 DVD and, to my amazement, I saw that there was a difference between this and the High School Musical franchise: this was good.

The songs were great, so much so I wouldn't object to Minima getting the album and playing it every hour that God sends, as she does at the moment with the HSM soundtracks. (Although the chorus of Welcome to the Sixties reminded me slightly of that of Heatwave, sung in 1965 by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.)

The plot of Hairspray is far more complex than that of the typical fare served up for tweenies. First of all there's the standard girl-falls-for-boy mechanism, but the movie - like the original and the stage play - also deals with discrimination. There's racial discrimination, which is at the centre of the film; the struggle to desegregate a teen dance show hosted by Corny Collins, a local celebrity who also opposes segregation on the basis of race but is opposed by former Miss Baltimore, Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeifer), an out-and-out racist who opposes integration, and is determined to experience her ambitions vicariously in the dancing career of her spoilt daughter Amber.

The film gave me an opportunity to relate to the girls a story my Mum told me about when she was living in New York in around the same time as the film is set. She was in Woolworths and went to the restaurant; one part being packed, she went to the emptier section - and was told to move, as this was reserved for coloured people. I don't know if this was before or after an incident on 1960 when four black people - Franklin McCain, David Richmond, Joseph McNeil and Ezell Blair - ordered coffee in the same restaurant at 4pm and remained unserved until it closed at 5pm. This developed into a sit-in and, although there were attacks on the protesters, they stayed true to Martin Luther King's doctrine of non-violent protest.

John Travolta in Hairspray  - he might call this fat, I'd just say big-bonedThere was also a sub-plot concerning discrimination on the grounds of obesity. John Travolta wore a fat-suit for the film to play protagonist Tracy's mother, who I gather lost her figure after having Tracy. Travolta brings all his considerable acting talent to the fore to make his character believable, but the thing is, I don't think the characters of Edna and Tracy Turnblad are all that fat.

Possibly my own girth plays a part in this judgement - I remember a job on buses that were converted into moving hospital wards where I was once referred to as "the wee thin guy from Glasgow", but that was many years ago. When Maxima put on a few pounds after having the girls, I came out in sympathy. Big time.

Or maybe US singer/songwriter John Mellencamp got it right when he said on Bob Harris' country show on BBC Radio 2 that the first time he came to Great Britain, he thought the people looked fitter, then added "now you all look like us".

Mellencamp was on the show to promote his new album, Life, Death, Love and Freedom. One of the songs on it is called Jena, after a town in Louisiana where in 2006 racial tensions at a secondary school spilled over when empty nooses were hung from a tree, a situation which culminated in a group of black youths being charged with assaulting a white youth. I looked it up on Wikipedia and just got more confused, although last year Townhall's Larry Elder tried to unravel what was going on.

In the UK, we had the awful murder of Stephen Lawrence by a group of white teenagers in 1993, regarding which nobody has been successfully prosecuted. At the time the Daily Mail took the unusual step of accusing five teenagers of the murder before any prosecution, including the Acourt brothers - which may have contributed to their acquittal. The subsequent investigation into the incident and its investigation, chaired by retired High Court Judge Sir William MacPherson, led to the production of a report which claimed to identify a culture of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police Force (the "Met") which polices London and whose Commissioner is the most senior police officer in Britain.

In a recent letter to the Spectator, however, Norman Dennis, Director of Community Studies of the think-tank Civitas, criticised the "uncritical reception" of the report and it's "pernicious influence on policing". There certainly appears to be a "civil war" based on race lines at the Met right now, with Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur having been suspended after he accused the Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, of racism in a press conference; Commander Dr Ali Dizaei has also been suspended while several claims against him are investigated.

After Dr Dizaei's suspension, the Metropolitan Black Police Association severed links with senior managers, and as London's Mayor Boris Johnson launches an enquiry into racism in the force, the MBPA stated it would no longer be encouraging black and Asian people to join the Met. It's a shame to see it opposing the Met in this way, and a greater shame that if you are white and heterosexual in certain settings, then you have nobody to speak for you.

One thing the MacPherson Report stated was that the approach of affecting to be "colour blind" was "flawed". Which brings me back to Hairspray, in particular a line sung by Tracy's friend Seaweed in Run and Tell That:
I can't see
Why people look at me
And only see the color of my face
yes they do

And then there's those
That try to help, god knows
But have to always put me in my place

Now I won't ask you to be color blind...
It was good to see that the concept of the "melting pot" is fading from the minds of both judges and lyricists. It's still present in education, however, so perhaps it's not as surprising as it is depressing to see a statement on the MBPA website informing the world that the old socialist concept of being "politically black" is still alive and well: "The term black does not relate to skin colour but is used to describe all people of African, African Caribbean or Asian origin."

Eh? So are/were Freddy Mercury, Ian Smith, Kim Jong-Il, Deng Xiaoping and the Dalai Lama black? Clarence Sholé Johnson, Professor of Philosophy in the Middle Tennessee State University, summarises the concept in an essay entitled (Re)Conceptualising Blackness and Making Race Obsolescent:
there is no incongruity in the idea of a person being pigmentationally white and politically black, or of a person being pigmentationally black and politically white. All that it means to say that a person is politically black is that the person is anti-status quo; that she or he is ideologically committed to de-centering whiteness; that she or he is oppositional or counterhegemonic.
I'm reminded of Barack Obama's claim to be moving towards post-racial politics, but he was monumentally undermined by some of his supporters who called him a lightworker -Queen Latifah - 'Motormouth' Maybelle in Hairspray somebody who can "usher in a new way of being on the planet", seemingly because they can't conceive that an ordinary black bloke could run for President.

Anyway, as Seaweed's Mum (Queen Latifah) states in the show-stopping spectacular finale, "it's time to wrap this mutha up!" It's good to see that such rich seams of discussion can be mined through watching Hairspray, as well as having a thoroughly good time. Hilarity is a wonderful initial strategy to disarm discrimination, far better than a thousand sociopathic soap-operas; and if Minima and Minora accuse me of going against the grain of received opinion that being equal is equivalent to being the same, well then, "Tosh!" I shall reply - "in my counterhegemonic stance I'm just being politically black." Or is that ideologically obese?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

well done Philip and Fern

I came into the living-room this morning to see This Morning hosts Philip Schofield and Fern Britton reading a statement from Max Clifford stating he didn't think the two ambushed writer and pop-singer Kerry Katona on their show yesterday. Intrigued, I looked up the appearance on YouTube:

It seems, according to a report that Ms Katona arrived just in time for her interview, therefore the producers of her show had no time to "assess" her beforehand.

Fern referred to Katona's past addiction problems - fairly, I thought, not only because they're in the public domain, but because they were obviously worried about her; Schofield's manner was redolent of a Dad concerned for a friend that his daughter's brought home in a vulnerable state.

Mark Croft, Katona's husband, referred to "bipolar depression", by which I imagine he means bipolar affective disorder where, when active, depression is the predominant feature - I'm not being pedantic, I have the same thing. (And when I'm ill there's no stopping me from doing something I've sent my mind on.)

Croft states she's on medication, as am I. And there's the rub: medication for many mental illnesses can have some quite distressing side effects, which can include slurring of speech. Once I experienced this when one of my meds was raised, and on another occasion when a med was changed I was shaking and sweating until my body got used to it...I was mortified, imagining that people would see me coming into work in the morning with the shakes and perspiring, and draw what they might think was the obvious conclusion. The media's mentioning that she might be on Chlorpromazine - this med is so powerful that in the prison system they used to refer to it as "liquid cosh".

Any other substances can interfere with the levels of medications in your body - for example, paracetamol can keep the liver busy, which means that your blood-levels of other meds build up for a while. Alcohol can have the same effect: as Katona pointed out, she's 28 and can drink if she wants to. Painkillers taken for a hangover can complicate the picture further.

But the crux of the issue is, was Kerry ambushed? Not a bit of it, in my opinion. It might have been more comfortable for Kerry had Phil and Fern glossed over the difficulties she was obvioulsy having, but she would have faced a lot more questions today, especially as she's being followed around by a camera crew for some sort of reality show.
click to go to 'This Morning' website
And Phil and Fern would find themselves being accused of collusion. You know, the sort of situation where Mother tells the kids to go to bed early again because "Dad's not well". I don't imagine it was a bundle of laughs for them asking Kerry what was wrong, but they did the right thing and I believe they will come to be vindicated for it. As Fern said:
We are just concerned for you because you're bubbly, you're funny, you're beautiful, you're quick-witted - all of those things, and we can't bear to see you not looking the Kerry we know.
So well done, Philip and Fern, and get well soon, Kerry.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

don't go down the road to hell, it's jammed with bendy-buses

one blogger's suggestion for the campaignIn order to survive, any extremist organisation has to turn public opinion against the group from which it recruits in order that some individuals in this group will become radicalised and provide the extremists with an intake.

A case in point was the methods of nationalist and loyalist paramilitary organisations emanating from Northern Ireland, which would carry out operations in such a way as to cause feelings of revulsion in the target community and polarise the non-aligned, often by using twisted logic to classify innocents as enemies and act accordingly. For example, attacks on peace-loving Irish people in London following IRA bombs weren't a side-effect of the campaign, they were one of the desired outcomes, to cause radicalisation.

A similar process can be seen in the 2004 murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam. Local government, in introducing its action plan to counter radicalisation, stated: "Although we were prepared for the possibility of an attack in Amsterdam, we were totally unprepared for the abhorrent way in which this attack took place. It put an enormous strain on relations in the city."

I wouldn't want to accuse Professor Richard Dawkins of wishing to radicalise those atheists who don't accept that being so doesn't mean they have to be anti-religion in a violent way, but he is involved in an attempt to radicalise them nonetheless.

On June 20 this year, Guardian blogger Ariane Sherine reported seeing a poster posingAriane Sherine the question that Luke 18:8 tells us Jesus asked his disciples during a discourse in the house of the Pharisee where he cured the man with the dropsical hand (starting 14:1) - "when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?". She went on to write a rather amusing article which she ended by proposing that thousands of atheists club together to buy an advert on a bus that would say, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and get on with your life." She states the Guardian's Comment is Free editor contacted the head of the National Secular Society for her to check out the feasibility of such a scheme. He appeared not to be very impressed, and suggested people donate to the NSS.

That same day, however, Jon Worth, who in his other life designs websites for Labour politicians, came by the post and changed it from some slightly controversial fun into something else in his blog, in which he states "you can’t spend a day in central London without being confronted by some sign that religion should be your only salvation", adding "what I really loathe is people somehow judging that those with religious belief are somehow superior beings".

He set up a pledgebank page devoted to the cause, and - despite the support of a campaign of bloggers - by the time the pledge had run out, the Telegraph's Matthew Moore reported that only 877 of the 4,678 people required had made a pledge, and the whole thing appeared "dead in the water".

Enter Richard Dawkins, who appended his name to the campaign by pledging to match funds donated up to £5500 ($9350). He seems to have somehow negotiated a deal whereby the message will be carried by as many as 60 London bendybuses for a month for £11,000 ($18,700). But a combination of Dawkins' name and a serious networking campaign (look at the messages at the bottom of Sherine's blog on the issue) led, as Martin Beckford reports, to £31,000 ($52,900) being raised.

I've been to London many times in the course of visiting family, and journeys related to my former job as a drugs-worker, and don't share Jon Worth's experience that you can't escape being "confronted" by religion. Away from the centre, I've seen a lot of hope, but also the sort of sights that drove Ralph McTell to write "Streets of London". But that's ok, seemingly, because bendy-buses will be going round telling people that "probably there's no God" (the first word is there to avoid litigation).

Perhaps wisely, some religious groups and figures have contributed to the campaign, which hopefully will draw some of the poison from it and eventually help indicate the ridiculous nature of the whole venture.

I say ridiculous advisedly - it's time to look at the website which prompted Ms Sherine's musings. (Although what seems to have exercised Jon Worth, who really started the ball rolling, was "a 40 minute sermon" from somebody who from his description may have been suffering from a mental illness.)

The website opens with a welcome page and has 12 bars down the side indicating different pages. I had to open 11 of them before I came across the mention of hell that Sherine mentioned - she had obviously put a lot of work into being offended. Still, I'm sure it's had a lot of hits through all this, which is obviously a good thing.

But who is the campaign aimed at? I imagine it will offend a lot of people of many faiths or none, and am worried that the poor bus-drivers might get a bit of hassle. But the target of the campaign, I think, is atheists. Specifically, those atheists who lack the visceral fear of religion that pervades The God Delusion, and do not subscribe to the view that lack of faith presupposes hatred of faith. I've known many atheists who have no problem with religion or religionists. And the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes reminds people of faith that, regarding those who shut out God and try to dodge religious questions, "believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation". The object of the campaign is for "non-aligned" atheists to be given grief in the hope that some of them will become radicalised.

Pace Cardinal Murphy O' Connor, Archbishop Williams et al, I won't be donating to this scheme, as there's better ways I can use my donations. I can only finish by referring to the 4 pages near the start of The God Delusion that Dawkins devotes to the cartoons of Mohammed that appeared in Jyllands-Posten in September 2005, which led to riots in February 2006. Similarly, some time has elapsed from Ariane Sherine's throwaway remarks in the Guardian to the near-culmination of the campaign to put anti-religion posters on London buses; and if Dawkins thinks the cartoon outcry was a set-up, then this is no less so.

London's bendy bus: bringing a hate campaign to a stop near you

NB: I was not being facetious in comparing the bendybus campaign to those of terrorists; I believe the basic process as regards radicalisation and recruitment is the same. For those interested in the progress of Amsterdam's campaign against radicalisation I recommend a page from Muhammad Haniff, who links to a very interesting (but long) report on the process of radicalisation in the context of Amsterdam.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ruth Kelly still has a prayer

click to go to Ruth Kelly's homepageSometimes interesting news stories are like buses - nothing for ages, then a few come at once.

The Telegraph reports today that Ruth Kelly is preparing to defy the Government's three-line whip - an order to vote as directed - and oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFE). When she was Transport Secretary, is until last month, it would have been very difficult for her to vote against the Bill as she would have been tied into the Cabinet's collective responsibility for all Governmental legislation.

It's generally accepted that Kelly's membership of Opus Dei, an organisation of Roman Catholic laypeople whose mission is to "help people turn their work and daily activities into occasions for growing closer to God, for serving others, and for improving society", was a factor in her resignation, and Telegraph blogger Jonathan Isaby states that the Bill's passage through the House of Commons was delayed so as not to make abortion an issue in the by-election in Glasgow East (which Labour lost), commenting that the constituency has a high proportion of Catholics.

I don't deny any of this, but I come from around that area, and it is not short of non-Catholics who also oppose the dangerous innovations of the HFE. Not just Glasgow: John Smeaton recently addressed an anti-abortion rally in Stormont, site of the Northern Ireland parliament - a country in which all legislation is subject to public consultation, and the public in Northern Ireland isn't having abortion.

I mention abortion because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is not all about abortion, but the sort of tortured and twisted situationalist ethics that fuel abortion legislation have been let out of the box to inform the mindset of laws that are drafted to curtail the right to life of people from conception to assisted death. But abortion, the original cause, is so important that Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, is drafting an amendment to the HFE Bill that would prevent any amendments to lower the abortion limit. She seems to think that she is standing up for a woman's right to do what she wants with her body.

I don't have any problems with the concept of a woman's ownership of her body. But an unborn child , while in its mother's body, has its own individual DNA profile and is therefore not part of it. This seems to have been recognised by the organisers of a staff poetry competition in Cambridge's Addenbrooke's Hospital. It was written by Paul McGhee, the Programme and Information Manager in the Research and Development Department, about stem cells, specifically "how you get from just a few cells, which seem to know what they are doing, to a real working human being that is aware of itself". It's called "Hi, Mum!" and here it is:

Hi, Mum!

I was two cells – one each from him and you.
Fused, not confused, seems they already knew
From all they could be, what they had to be.
Divided, they decided to be me.

With every split decision that they took,
Each chose a route, put on a different look;
A cage of bone, a flow of blood, some skin,
A web of nerves, a mind to keep things in.

Some time amongst that maze I saw a light,
Felt a sharp pain, took unexpected fright;
Heard your heart, sure, but then I heard my own;
Became aware of just how much I’d grown.

Rough-hewn from what heredity portends,
Hi, mum! I’m ready now to shape my ends.

John Smeaton asked for our prayers for Prime Minister Gordon Brown anAddenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridged Speaker of the House of Commons Michael Martin as the HFE Bill sails down the river of legislation like a ship bursting with buccaneers. I would add that Ruth Kelly deserves all our prayers as she faces what is possibly the most difficult decision of her career. All I can say to her is that the best political survivors of the present Labour Party will be those who dared to defy the party line; many of the rest will sink with the ship.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

if suicide is the answer, what is the question?

Being manic-depressive myself, I was concerned today to read the very sad case of Kerrie Woolterton, who, having a history of mental health problems, swallowed weedkiller - not for the first time - and called an ambulance, handing staff a letter saying that she did not want life-saving treatment to be instigated.

This was covered by the Mental Capacity Act 2005, under which one can make an "advance statement" ("living will"), which means that, if the document is signed by another capable adult, health professionals may not apply life-giving treatment. I was disappointed to see that the act does not provide for negotiation if the person is mentally ill at the time they hand over their living will.

The poor woman, according to reports, was depressed, and decided that it was time to exit stage left. I wonder how far her treatment had progressed, and if there were any barriers to treatment erected by the organisation of mental health trusts?

Recently we've heard about multiple sclerosis (a terrible ilness which can cause depression and suicidal thoughts) sufferer Debbie Purdie challenging the High Court as to what charges might be laid against her husband should he help her to go to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to be assisted to die, and the police have been questioning people as to Daniel James' travelling to Switzerland to be helped to die after a rugby accident that left him paralysed and depressed.

Am I alone in seeing a theme here?

May God be with the departed and the left.

Friday, October 17, 2008

the suicide solution

Very briefly, news is just breaking that the two people are being questioned by police in relation to a young man's travelling to Switzerland to commit suicide.

Daniel James, who was 23, had tried to kill himself several times because of the "day-to-day fear and loathing of his living existence" due to being paralyzed from the chest down after a rugby accident in March 2007. He died on 12 September, a week before publicisation of comments by Baroness Warnock saying that there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or of society.

Looking at what facts we have as a former mental health worker, the fact that he made suicide attempts indicates that severe depression may have been part of his psychological picture, with six months possibly not being long enough for him to make an accomodation with his new bodily image and and grieve for his lost physical abilities (for a bereaved person, grief does not start to be considered pathological until it has lasted two years).

In the present climate when public funds are tighter than ever due to bailing out financial institutions and disabled people are living ever longer, isn't it remarkable that the mainstream media are being hit by stories about suicide for vulnerable and depressed people being a viable solution to suffering and uncertainty?

Recquiescat in pace, and God be with his family at this time.

normal service will soon be resumed

I've twisted my ankle slipping on a patch of mud in the draughty old fen, and can't sit at the computer desk for long right now. Minora's trying to set up the laptop so it can connect to wi-fi, but not with much success. All three women in my life ask for your prayers for a speedy recovery, they say I'm even grumpier when I can't blog.

Hasta la vista etc etc - FD

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

first they came for the photogenic

The Director of Public Prosecutions has been asked to clarify under what conditions it would prosecute the husband of a woman woman suffering from MS for taking her to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, where people are assisted to die.

The DPP sees the importance of this case and earlier this month allowed SPUC (the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) to make a contribution, during which it stated that Mrs Debby Purdy's campaign would "serve to undermine vulnerable people".

Debbie Purdy and Omar Puente
Last month, Baroness Warnock commented that people with Alzheimer's disease were "wasting people's lives" and stated there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of society. Conservative MP Nadine Dorries recognised what she was speaking about: the Telegraph article I link to above quotes her as saying: "I believe it is extremely irresponsible and unnerving for someone in Baroness Warnock's position to put forward arguments in favour of euthanasia for those who suffer from dementia and other neurological illnesses" (my italics).

Warnock's original article was called "A Duty to Die?" This has been the title of various ethical articles, but I believe she chose that title as a reference to a joint statement by Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Cormac Murphy O' Connor and Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks in a letter to the Times bemoaning the legislative drift from the right to die for the terminally ill to their "duty to die".

Where Mrs Purdy seems to be coming from is that whereas para. 1 of the Suicide Act 1961 abrogates "the rule of law whereby it is a crime for a person to commit suicide", para 2 states:
(1)A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the suicide of another, or an attempt by another to commit suicide, shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.

(2)If on the trial of an indictment for murder or manslaughter it is proved that the accused aided, abetted, counselled or procured the suicide of the person in question, the jury may find him guilty of that offence.
However, her campaign is a strange one, given that of the more than 100 Britons who have been helped to die at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland, there has not been one prosecution. She has stated that she feels her husband Omar Puente "would be more likely to face prosecution as he is black and a foreigner".

Joshua Rozenberg refers to the case of MS Diane Pretty, who failed to get a legal guarantee that her husband would not be prosecuted for helping her to die. In her case, the European Court of Human Rights decided that it could not interfere with Great Britain's applying para 2 of the Suicide Act. However, What Purdy and Puente are asking for is a technical clarification of the circumstances in which the DPP would bring a prosecution against Mr Puente for assisting in some as yet undefined way with Mrs Purdy's suicide. Mr Rozenberg's interpretation of the outcome of the judicial review was: "wait and see".

neighbours complained about Dignitas bringing people back to a flat in this block to die, photo courtesy of the Daily TelegraphDignitas has long been the subject of controversy. It assisted people to die in a flat in a residential block until the neighbours complained, and then moved to a hotel room, from which it was also barred. It then resorted to handing over barbiturates to people who wanted to kill themselves in a car park; they would then drive to another car park and swallow the drugs. From 1998-2007, it killed over 750 non-Swiss, charging £3,000 ($5,000) each.

Personally, I think Baroness Warnock made her "duty to die" statement in the knowledge that this case was coming up. I think, too, that the soap Emmerdale will be running a suicide storyline off the back of this - with an abusive husband representing a certain sector of society, and the wife urging him to go on taking the pills standing in for the "enlightened" campaigners who would like to free the aged, ill and sad from oppression.

But how enlightened are these campaigners? Warnock refers to the cost to the NHS - ie taxpayers' money, a hot topic in recent months - in keeping the incapacitated alive. On the other side of the mortal coil, the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology referred to the "financial hardship in the bringing up of the sickest babies" in its proposal for infanticide. And even Dignity in Dying, for Pete's sake (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has criticised Dignitas for its proposal to help people with chronic mental health problems (a drain on society's resources?) to die. Indeed, commenting on the Purdy case, John Smeaton, head of SPUC, referred to the propensity of people with multiple sclerosis to suffer depression and suicidal thoughts.

There is a version of a famous poem about how a populace allowed itself to sleepwalk into calamity on the New England Holocaust Memorial:
Pastor Martin Niemöller, from a Time cover - click to see the story of 'first they came for...'
They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

On 9/11, "spin doctor" Jo Moore sent an infamous email to members of the British government stating that it was "a good day to bury bad news". I would suggest that this whole dismal season is time to watch out for the rights of all those who cannot assert them for themselves for whatever reason, or who are being manipulated by a cynical politically-correct media machine as a way to hammer a eugenic wedge once more into the fabric of society. Alternatively, one day if you become less able you might find it is a good day to bury you, and there will be nobody left to hear your voice.

creation follows destruction: a new Culloden

Joseph Schumpeter began his 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy thus: "Can capitalism survive? No. I do not believe it can." He went on by explaining that "capitalism...would spawn a large intellectual class that made its living by attacking the very bourgeois system of private property and freedom so necessary for the intellectual class’s existence. "

I felt an echo of this in the preamble of Gordon Rayner's article on the British £37 billion bail-out of banks - leaving it in charge of £500 billion of British mortgages - in the Daily Telegraph yesterday: "October 13, 2008, will go down in history as the day the capitalist system in Britain admitted defeat". However, in the same paper, Martin Vander Weyer's "Countdown to Recovery" refers to a novel theory of capitalism Schuster expounded in the same book, creative destruction - the concept whereby economies develop through new technologies and thinking, evolving to replace the old order in what sounds like a shivaistic dance of breaking-down and renewal.

This process seems to refer to whole countries as well as sectors. On the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2, Alan Cochrane, the Telegraph's Scottish Editor, referred to Westminister's buy-outs of the majority shares in HBOS and RBS as a a "massive blow" to Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, noting that the Scottish Executive was unable to broker a deal to take over the banks domestically.

The Scotsman's leader article, however, shows that the implications of what happened yesterday haven't yet sank in. It notes the "as yet incalculable consequences for the political economy of Scotland" of the "humiliation of this admission of catastrophic failure [and] the injury inflicted on national morale", but goes on to conclude that "Scotland's banks have not been levelled flat". The point is, those banks that are being nationalised that were - nominally - Scottish are Scottish no more. They belong to Westminster now - ie to the taxpayers of Great Britain. Guess where most of them live? To add insult to injury, the title of Bill McLaren's article today shows that some of my countrymen are coping with the crisis by pointing at "the auld enemy": "Government's rescue plan cloaks what will be a financial Culloden".

What a historical bloomer: Charlie wanted to be the king of Britain, not Scotland. The Young Pretender had no more care for the ordinary Scots than the banks did. On vine's show, a fromer RBS manager called "Clare" spoke of having to meet quotas of people called in for reviews as a pretext for selling them loans.

In April, The Spectator's Fraser Nelson wrote about Alex Salmond's policy of nudging the English towards independence. Case in point: the Campaign for an English Parliament, of which I am a member, has issued a press release detailing benefits that the aforementioned taxpayers will be paying for but which will not be available in England. Except, will these benefits still be distributed in the Shumpeteresque wave of financial refashioning that is coming?

My guess is that they will. Not only that, but it's not unlikely that Labour Government pressure on the banks it will have representatives on may seek greater parity of loans for members of their pet disadvantaged groups - the selfsame policy which has been laid at the door of Bill Clinton for setting parameters for the financial sector that were always going to bring us here.

As I've said before, regardless of what Scotland does, England will never be independent of it while both remain in the European Union; the monies which presently disappear north with the Barnett formula will simply be rerouted through Brussels. So the situation seems more grim on reading Cranmer's reference to Former EU Commissioner for Belgium (itself riven by secessionists) Viscount Etienne Davignon's speech in Ireland, stating that governments should stand down if they do not ratify the Lisbon treaty; not ratifying it was not an option, according to him.

Cranmer compared his language to that of quondam monarchs who insisted on their divine right to rule. This belief was a signal failing in the Stuart line, which ensured that James II/VII was the last of them to rule in Britain, and engendered the hubris in his son which ended in Culloden.

So maybe the hubris which has brought us here should be rewarded with the same short shrift. As "Clare" said to Vine, this was not just down to CEO's: "it's time bigwigs in the boardroom who forced staff to do pressure selling whould be named and shamed".

And hopefully, in time, Schumpeter's destruction will fuel a creation that might be something quite changed, different from what we know now, but free from an excess of hubris and still capitalism.

NB: The item on the financial situation can be listened to again on Jeremy Vine's page on the BBC website, and will remain there until Sunday 19 October.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

beautiful vermin - getting to the meat of the thing

Earlier this week, Professor Calculus informed me that he'd been given a rabbit and a hare. Since he didn't have the facilities to store them, he asked me to do so, and told me to keep the hare. So I put them in the freezer, then informed Minima and Minora.

Minima wasn't bothered; but from Minora's reaction, you'd think that I'd killed Maxima and offered them her in sandwiches. Like many adolescents, she knows that she opposes something with all her heart, but she's not quite worked out what it is yet, so the issue of killing animals was as good a cause as anything to get overheated about.

I tried to tell her beautiful vermin, and edible too - click to read a hare recipethat wild Leporidae were vermin, but she wasn't having any of it. She replied that they were beautiful, and I agreed: they're beautiful vermin. So I asked her what she had against the farmers whose crops rabbits etc ate, at which she had a fit of procrastination and went to her room to put some thump-thump-thump music on.

Anyway, I took the rabbit up to Calculus' place after a night's thawing: he showed me how to skin and "paunch" the beast, ie take its guts out. His dog Granum had a feast, and I wondered, am I going to be able to do that with the hare?

At home, I took the hare out of its plastic bag. Its pelt was smooth, and reminded me of the fur of our cat, Magus. It had been shot in the head, which had a couple of drops of blood on it. Even so, it was a handsome beast, and I raised the knife with trepidation.

I hacked its legs off first, above the elbows. Then I cut down the belly with Maxima's sharpest knife, pausing to wipe fur off the cutting edge. Paunching it wasn't as hard as I thought: I'd been worried about piercing the gut, but thankfully this never happened. I was surprised by the amount of force that was required to remove the pelt and flesh from the corpse. So had Professor Calculus with the rabbit - maybe they're not supposed to be frozen.

Even despite the ongoing supermarket price war, I've heard talk of hares and rabbits becoming more popular as a form of nourishment because they exist, free range, up and down the countryside. Their killing is a service not only to landowners, but often also to the cereal-eating public (ie just about everybody). And it's perfectly possible to kill them cleanly; the British Association for Shooting and Conservation has an information page on shooting rabbits which includes information on choosing an airgun and ammunition for "A well-placed shot [to] result in a clean, humane kill", and advises "You should never attempt to shoot a rabbit that’s more than 35 metres away, and only then with a headshot that will kill him cleanly."

click to go to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation website
I looked up cooking times in my Gran's old cookbook then added some just to be safe - penicillin wasn't discovered until eight years after the book was published, but now antibiotics are all over the damn place, including in the water supply that's used for irrigation. The hare meat was tender and not particularly strong-tasting, and after Maxima gotten over me disembowelling the thing in her kitchen she chopped and threw in a couple of onions and tatties. She joined me in eating some of the meat, as did Minima, but Minora remained green around the gills and sat huffily watching an anime video.

At a time when the prevailing financial conditions are pushing people away from money and back to bartering (including beer for game), it looks like eating game is going to become more mainstream than I've ever seen it (although the animals I saw most often in Glasgow click to go to the Countryside Alliance's Shooting Campaignwere pigeons, rats and foxes). Which brings up the issue of how taxation for goods and services exchanged in a non-monetary system is going to be calculated and what the penalties will be for non-payment. And, although Labour's on-off manifesto commitment to shooting is currently "on", will any of the monies raised by bartering involving game be used to appease those anti-shoot campaigners who still form a significant minority within that party?

But all that's for another day. I'm famished now - I think I'll go and finish off the hare.

click to go to Wildfowling Magazing International

Thursday, October 9, 2008

show and tell and war

The concept of show-and-tell sessions at school, although relatively new in the UK, is familiar to me; my Mum worked as, among other things, a secretary in a school attached to a Catholic church in New York in the early '60's. So, when Minima came home and told us her history class was putting on a form of show and tell for older kids, I knew the sort of thing she meant.

Her class was tasked with tracing their family trees, finding out where times of their predecessor's lives intersected with history, and bringing in some sort of artefact connected with one such crux.

I had no hesition and gave her a battered tin of my mother's, which contained most of what we have left of my Grandad, and told her about the contents.

There are two cap badges in it, one of which is from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. This was, however, his second regiment. The batallion of his first (the other cap badge, I think, is from the Highland Light Infantry), I've learnt at my mother's knee, was wiped out in France, and he stayed in the ASH when the survivors were brought within their fold.

First things first: he lied about his age to join the army and escape his job at the Parkhead Forge in Glasgow. Exploitative child labour in Great Britain had been attacked from all points on the political spectrum since the mid-1800's, but a coalition of distant managers, unprincipled gaffers and negligent parents conspired in to keep it going in some outfits for longer than is generally recognised in the history books.

Another precious reminder of him is a decaying photograph of a proud young sergeant taken not too long before the start of the Great War, which was far too fragile to entrust to Minima's enthusiastic mercies. It was as a sergeant that Grandad, Jim, first became empowered. A junior officer not long out of training school had come to his barracks, and soon picked up that if a soldier came to the Sergeant for a chit requiring a form to be filled in, Jim would make the soldier write what had to be entered on the form on the blackboard in the office. When asked why, he'd reply "I've got to check you's can all read an' write!"

It didn't take the officer long to click that Jim was functionally illiterate, and was simply copying the squiggles on the blackboard onto the forms, so he had Jim sent onto a literacy course. It was the making of him.

During the crucible of the Great War which made some men, broke others and rendered yet more silent on the subject until their deaths, Jim was able to use his own knowledge to "look after" the officer. In the Gallipoli campaign, for example, he advised the officer to order soldiers to pick up their comrades' corpses and put them on their backs. Turkish machine-guns were ahead of them, but some of the Allied ships behind were aiming their gunfire too low.

After the war, the two men never met again. But the officer - I wish I knew his name - never forgot his first Sergeant, and went to his funeral in the mid-50's.

Meanwhile, during the Second World War, Jim was too old to go abroad. But he played an important role training troops in Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow, which also acted as a receiving point for deserters. He would retrieve deserters from all over Scotland, and take them to his home for a bowl of soup before he handed them over to Maryhill: during WWI, he'd been one of the NCO's to realise that a conscript who had, for whatever reason, passed a certain point of panic was a liability, and had colluded in shooting off toes or trigger fingers.

Grandad had to sell most of his medals to collectors to get by, but couldn't bear to part with his WWI and WWII campaign medals. He was, however, especially proud of his Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders cap-badge, which is why I think my Mum was so protective of it. She said he was disappointed in those Scots, predominantly Glaswegians, who mispronounced the name of the regiment as "Argyll and Southern Highlanders". It betrays geographical ignorance of colossal proportions - Sutherland is the northernmost part of Scotland, so-called because to the Vikings it was the land to the south.

Although war-wounded to a degree that at times disabled him, Jim was refused help because in his more robust days he'd been a political agitator for an ideology that seems now to be de rigeur in Europe. But he was no ideologue: the memories of staying up all nights to protect eight newborns - three of whom survived to their teens - from rats left him angry. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party, but wasn't able to contribute many ideas because he couldn't afford the fees to make it to their summer schools. I thank God that shortly before he died he saw his first grandchild - my cousin.

I also thank God that he died before people of his own political persuasion capitulated to the ambivalence that left-wingers now feel about patriotism. It's obviously good that the Government has moved to protect the savings and the aspirations of people who invested their money in banks that appeared to be safe. But where was that support when British solders were being killed and injured because their vehicles were not up to the standard required to protect those inside them from landmines?

US spending for the welfare of veterans was $33 billion in 2006. I am unable to find the equivalent UK figure.

Rest in peace, Jim. I pray that you and my Mum are waiting for me so that we can have a ding-dong of epic proportions.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

society's evolution to the financial

click to see nine gene discoveries that could change your life

The Language of the Genes
Steve Jones
Flamingo 1994
pp 347

I was tucking into my curried tatties - Maxima is half-Irish and can do anything with the dChris Evansamn things - minding my own business this evening, when the author of a book I'm reading came on Chris Evans' Radio 2 show.

Steve Jones is an evolutionary biologist who started his career as a malacologist (snail-ologist), and I was given his book, The Language of the Genes, by a friend who expected to enjoy watching me explode in righteous inarticulacy. Instead, I was riveted.

Steve JonesMost geneticists have to deal with the fact that their science had inauspicious origins, and Jones deals with this frankly in the introduction. Social Darwinism was founded largely by liberal Victorian thinker Herbert Spencer and Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's half-cousin. Through Galton's influence, the movement - which mortified Darwin - morphed from letting evolution carry on without interferences such as healthcare and philanthropy into eugenics, which was very much involved with interfering with evolution. The pseudo-science served as a cover for figures from all parts of the political spectrum who were concerned for the future of the white race - whatever race is apart from societally-determined constructs based on arbitrary classification of features, mainly (but not exclusively) skin colour. Jones relates an anecdote towards the end of the book:

In 1987, a secretary from Virginia sued her employer for discriminating against her because she was black. She lost the case on the grounds that, as she had red hair, she must be white. She then worked for a black employer and, undaunted by her earlier experience, sued her for discriminating against her as she was white. She lost again: the court found that she could not be white as she went to a black school.
That all this was not consumed in the obscene flames of the Holocaust is borne out by both last century's history and recent events.

In Fatal Misconception: the Struggle to control World Population, Matthew Connelly relates how de Gaulle thought that post-war France had become too "Latinized", and approved a scheme for "an infusion of Nordic blood" which included persuading German prisoners of war to marry French women.

A row has recently erupted about a pioneer of eugenics being featured on stamps. As the Dailclick to read Gerald Warner's blogy Telegraph's Gerald Warner points out, Marie Stopes was an ardent admirer of Hitler, supported compulsory sterilisation of the "diseased", and formulated the slogan "Joyful and Deliberate Motherhood, A Safe Light in our Racial Darkness". (Her organisation was called the Society for Constructive Birth Control and Racial Progress; it bears no links to Marie Stopes International - this was born when the Population Services Family Planning Programme bought the rights to her name from the British Eugenics Society post-WWII.)

Combining a lightness of touch with the depth of his knowledge of his subject, Jones then proceeds to take us on a journey of discovery that passes through biochemistry, virology, palaeopathology, discrimination, the evolution of evolutionary science and gender politics. Indeed, three-quarters of my family would be pleased to read in the chapter on The Battle of the Sexes that "We are still not certain why males exist; and why, if we must have them at all, nature needs so many...the frank answer is that...although the reason for the existence of women is obvious enough, nobody has any real idea what point there is in being a man."

I would answer that one in the words of Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in his own image...male and female he created them". And for good reason: as Jones points out, the product of sexual reproduction is a genetically unique individual every time, whereas in asexual reproduction, an unfavourable mutation is there to stay. Jones, however is not a man of faith; but, while he holds some strong views on creationism, he is not an ideologue like, say, Richard Dawkins - he refers to Biblical quotes several times in his arguments; although he might not believe in the historical books, he unashamedly points to their feasibility.

Another point at which he diverges from Dawkins is in his refusal to reduce human beings to disposable vehicles for genetic material; he states: "To make too much of the shared DNA of chimps and humans is to be in danger of falling into...foolishness. Humans, uniquely, are what they think." Later, in case the point hasn't got through, he refers to Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker (which is a parody of William Paley's parable of finding a watch in a field and realising that it must have been, as we might say, "intelligently designed"):

There is a danger of seeing the whole of biology as evidence of natural selection. Just as Paley saw the complexity of life as an argument for God, there is a neo-Paleyism which plagues evolutionary theory. It argues that all animal structure is well adapted so that it must always reflect the action of selection...Some feel that the Darwinian theory drives the whole of evolution from the order of the bases in DNA to the shape of the nose...Another beauty - and an important weakness - of the theory of evolution by natural selection is that with a little imagination it is possible to come up with an explanation of anything...Many are fantasy, but because they invoke events which took place in the distant past they are almost impossible to refute.
The Language of the Genes concludes with a reflection on the dangers of making too much of the genome, in which he refers (in 1994) to a movement "to add to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a statement that everyone has the right to a genetic constitution which has not been changed without their consent". In 2004, the Vatican's International Theological Commission released Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God, which was published under the auspices of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Paragraph 91 states:

"The uniqueness of each human person, in part constituted by his biogenetic characteristics and developed through nurture and growth, belongs intrinsically to him [sic] and cannot be instrumentalized in order to improve some of these characteristics...Such modifications would in any case violate the freedom of future persons who had no part in decisions that determine his bodily structure and characteristics in a significant and possibly irreversible way [but] gene therapy...would help the individual to give full expression to his real identity which is blocked by a defective gene.
By 2006, the best that UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights had come up with was that "The impact of life sciences on future generations, including on their genetic constitution, should be given due regard".

Much of this section might have been written last week, instead of over a decade ago. Jones tells us of an insurance company that offered to test a couple's unborn child for the gene for cystic fibrosis "only if the parents agreed to have an abortion if the test was positive". Mass testing might (then) cost £50,000 per person for every case of cystic fibrosis "prevented" - "much less than the cost of lifelong treatment" (although he notes that a hundred times more people may carry the gene than have the disease). This is the logic, I think, that will increasingly inform the policy-making of government, health and insurance agencies should the present financial crisis turn out to be a long-term phenomenon. Which poses the question: are people with disabilities, health-needs or a probability of developing these in the light of their genome seen to have any intrinsic value? (Jones: "Is a damaged gene a pre-existing condition?")

The reason that Jones was appearing on Evans' show was down to his statement - fleshed out in an article he has written for the Telegraph - amplifying TLG's conclusion that "it looks as if the human mutation rate is on its way down...we are almost at the end of [our] evolutionary road". So the eugenicists have failed in their bids to control human evolution - but the ethical dilemmas we inherited from them have not left us, they have merely mutated from the racial sphere to the financial.

click to read how healthcare for the sick and disabled is already under threat

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Tesco: a different view always helps

the Wilco shop which Tesco has permission to move into, with thanks to the 'Cambridge News'Yesterday's Cambridge News reported that a Cambridge City Council has finished hearing four days' of evidence regarding an appeal by Tesco's against decisions to refuse permission to the chain to install an extension and plant into a shop void which the Council has already given it permission to move into.

This story has been running all year in the face of a concerted anti-Tesco campaign which has included submissions to the Council from Germany and Australia. It has included a 600-strong protest march, a petition containing over 4,000 signatures, and a dedicated facebook group.

However, a related Facebook group called Let's turn Mill Road into chains free zone unintentionally puts my own argument into a nutshell:

Mill Road is an extraordinary street on which it is possible to drink Arabic coffee or fine wines; where you can worship in a Mosque, a Hindu shrine or a Baptist church; where you can eat foie gras or fish and chips, tom yum or chicken tikka lababda; where you can stock up on herbs and spices from aam to zedoary.
My argument, and that of many others who are too busy to march down Mill Road, is: which of the above is a Tesco Metro going to threaten? (Although I'm a bit doubtful about the claim for foie gras; the last mention of it in Cambridge I recall was when a restaurant selling the delicacy was vandalised by animal-rights protestors. The story made me feel tempted to develop a foie gras habit.)

As well as being able to access all of the above, there are more goods you can buy on Mill Road - cannabis seeds and the means to grow them, second-hand firearms and hard-core pornography. In this context, I was surprised to learn that Cambridge's MP David Howarth is supporting the campaign against Tesco's opening in Mill Road: there are more important issues affecting the thoroughfare.

Like, for example, Lib Dem Councillor Kilian Bourke's plan to make Mill Road a shared space. I'm not saying that removing signage and road markings would not make motorists think more carefully about what they were doing, but the No Mill Road Tesco campaign's own video shows how busy the road can get; I don't see the wisdom of removing demarcation between those parts of the road used by drivers and those by pedestrians. The Wikipedia article linked to above states: "Shared space zones are very frightening for the blind and partially sighted who cannot visually negotiate their way with other road users, as the lack of separation implicit in these schemes has also has removed their safe space".

I'm rather unhappy with the video as it gives no indication of the time of day it was taken - during term time, much of Cambridge is practically gridlocked, not just Mill Road, for the school runs. When I was in town the other day, I saw how vulnerable the road was to stoppages when a huge Co-op van blocked the whole road while maneuvring into the street running down the side of the supermarket.

Which brings me to the reason why the Mill Road situation has been in my mind recently. Last week I went to an event at Cambridge University facilitated by the Co-op; it had been planned for a previous date, but a delay held it back until the week before the Tesco hearing. One of the speakers, I see from my notes, brought up the subject of the chain's own farms, which might "mitigate the impact of [pause] larger retailers". She later said that schoolchildren she spoke to thought that milk originates from Tesco's, and to much hilarity an audience member shouted, "you're really in trouble if your milk comes from Tesco's!"

I'm not saying that this event had a hidden agenda to herd Cambridge's shopping intelligentsia against Tesco's, but it reminded me that if you didn't know the smaller ethnic stores in Mill Road very well, then if you wanted anti-Mill-Road Tesco's material you went to Mill Road Co-op; and that a Tesco's in Mill Road would threaten the Co-op much more than it would, say, the tearooms, the pagan bookshop, the nail-bar, etc...

In February, the anti-campaign published a shopping-basket comparison, according to which another Tesco Express's goods were slightly dearer than goods bought in various local shops. Ok, but shortly after this the Cambridge News printed a letter from an older person who said she'd be happy to pay the difference if it would save her from walking up and down going to various shops. There's always swings and roundabouts. (I'm a little puzzled as to why the campaign differentiates between the Co-op as a "local" shop and Tesco's as a chain, though.)

The anti's have got an advantage here, in that it's much easier to proclaim oneself anti-Tesco than pro-Tesco. Myself, I'm "pro" a relatively pleasant shopping experience with a short waiting time and reasonable prices. I might get that in Asda's, Sainsbury's etc, but I happen to go to Tesco's when it's handy.

Indeclick to read about Tesco's charity of the yeared, I've always said that I prefer Tesco's; and added that if I stopped preferring it, or it was busy, I'd go somewhere else, because I do not ascribe to an ideology which classifies human beings as economic automata. I believe Tesco's would sit well in Mill Road because, with shops as with people, it takes all sorts.

Related posts:

Do the shopping, stuff the skunk
Normal service will not shortly be resumed

Thursday, October 2, 2008

cooperating with carbon: salvation or hot air?

The Møller Centre, University of CambridgeLast week, I was pleasantly surprised to be given an invitation to a debate on food ethics, courtesy of the Cooperative retail chain, at Cambridge University's Møller Centre, a conference centre with striking architecture which is attached to Churchill College.

It was all very nice, with a buffet beforehand, comfortable swivel chairs with plenty of room between rows so that people could pass by those already seated without creating a harrassed Mexican wave, and facilities for powerpoint accompaniments to talks. It was all so luxurious I nearly didn't notice that, when the event was drawn to a close at the end of the question-and-answer session, I was still waiting for the debate to start.

The event was opened and facilitated by Ranjit Singh of Co-op East Anglia, who stated that 99% of Co-op stores now run on clean energy (where carbon generated is offset) and that the Co-op's travel agency offered the customers the chance to offset the carbon emissions of their flights. He was, however, brave enough to inform us that in a recent survey only 4% of Co-op customers thought that climate change should be a priority.

This became a theme for the panel of four speakers through the evening. At one point there was a discussion on whether producing vegetables in a greenhouse in England heated by conventional energy created more carbon-containing emissions than flying the same vegetables in from Kenya, or less. Suddenly, I felt as if I was in the company of mediaeval schoolmen discussing to what degree a particular action was a sin and under what circumstances.

One inclick to go to the 'love food, hate waste' websiteteresting talk was by an associate trainer from the Co-operative College, who spoke about wasting food.

My first thought was of the quondam childhood cry, reprised by comedians, in response to parental pleas to think of starving children before wasting food (usually something like brussel spouts or tripe): "send the food over to the starving children, then!" But that's not funny any more, I thought with a twang of guiclick to go to the website of WRAP: Material Change for a Better Environmentlt. I was surprised to learn that, in Great Britain, 340,000 tons of uneaten food which is still in date is thrown away, including 272 tons of bottled water, which was once de rigeur for serious poseurs.

Then, carbon reared its allotropic head again, with the statistic that the AVOIDABLE WASTE (written on a slide in BIG LETTERS) equalled 18 million tons of CO2. Personally, I thought the more pertinent statistic, given the present financial climate, was that households with children threw away food worth £610 per year, and single-occupancy households £250.

But this lady was on a mission. She takes this lecture round schools because, she says, "people are in denial about this".

The use of the word "denial" was interesting. People who do not swallow the theory of climate change being anthropogenic are labelled "deniers". Lawrence Solomon explains the reason why in the introduction to his 2008 book of the same name:

The very term "deniers" is a deliberate reference to the "Holocaust deniers" who defend the Nazi regime by claiming that Jews and their allies faked the Holocaust to slander Hitler. Scott Pelley, of CBS's 60 Minutes, was asked by CBS Web reporter Brian Montopoli why "he did not acknowledge global warming skeptics" in his influential broadcasts on the topic. Pelley replied, "If I do an interview with [Holocaust survivor] Elie Wiesel, am I required as a journalist to find a Holocaust denier?"
As happened when supporters of the Roman Catholic Mass of Pope Paul VI labelled adherents of the Tridentine rite as "Traditionalists", climate-change sceptics have embraced the appellation of "Denier", and the smear campaign has backfired spectacularly.

I wanted to ask a question about this, but a chap at the back took the words out of my mouth: "Is the Co-op assuming, like other organisations have, that climate change is due to the activities of mankind?"

The atmosphere electrified. An angry buzz went round, and dagger looks were aimed at the questioner. Poor Ranjit didn't seem to have anticipated the question, and iterated that 99% of the Co-op's stores ran on clean energy and the academic speaker, of course, quoted New Scientist. The most interesting response came from the associate trainer, obviously a true believer, who stated that if you denied the anthropogenic cause of climate change you supported logging in the Amazon and drilling for oil in Alaska and ended, red-faced and almost shouting: "Let's do what we can with earth's resources before we go back to it for more!" A round of applause was starting up before Ranjit wisely stepped in to draw the session to a close.

Freud would have loved the answers, because what was not said was as important as what was. The theory of human actions causing climate change was not explicitly defended; instead, there was an emotional attempt to depict deniers as people who would despoil the beauty of Alaska and destroy resources and cultures by illegal logging. (In fact I'm perfectly happy for the former to happen with safeguards, but the latter leaves me cold and angry.)

What I think is happening is that people have invested so much cognitive, emotional and financial capital in the concept of combatting climate change as a means of salvation for the earth that they can't or won't believe that a great deal of the theory is a textbook exercise in circumvention. As well as Solomon, another of many commentators suspicious of the climate-change industry is Noel Sheppard, who has documented trickery in reportage - for example, presenting statistics from weather stations without mentioning that they were moved from the upwind to the downwind sides of cities (where the wind would have been warmed by blowing past dwellings, factories, etc), and figures being withheld from the public.

As Professor Bob Carter of James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, shows, the earth is cooling down; but (or perhaps therefore) we are increasingly treated to alarmist reports that we have, variously, six-to-seven, seven, eight, ten or even 75 years (the last from a poster who thinks an asteroid will hit us first and criticises "the Earthlings" for their inaction). New Scientist is playing the eager acolyte, of course, as it seeks to populate the demonology of the climatic pantheon with the figures of the old order (in their eyes). "Warmists" like climate-change's jet-setting prophet Al Gore are panicking: Gore is now proposing "civil disobedience", presumably to distract his votaries from their emperor's naked strutting.

There was great unmined potential for a debate on the Co-op's Fairtrade policy to support growers in developing countries versus struggling British producers, and personal versus national duties towards hunger at home and abroad in the context of the crying shame of good food going to waste. Instead, using the event as another opportunity to preach our carbon-sinfulness drowned out a lot of good subjects that were worthy of debate but had to take a back-seat to the prevailing ideological orthodoxy. If I were a lecturer marking the non-debate as a submission, my mark would be: could do much, much better. is carbon really the enemy?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

shades of grey

Today, Minora came home from a routine appointment at the GP's, and related how kind and understanding she (the locum) had been. Then she added that the doctor was Chinese, and said: "So you see, Dad, not all foreigners are bad". I felt that she was holding up a picture of a not very nice person, and trying to present it to me as a mirror image.
Andrew Lansley CBE, MP for South Cambridgeshire
I sat down with her and said that I had never made out "all foreigners" to be "bad". I pointed out the many nursing staff from Addenbrooke's who come from the Phillipines. Andrew Lansley, a Cambridgeshire MP and the Shadow Minister for Health, had pointed out to Parliament that they had been recruited because Philippino nurses are so good - to get a decent job in the Phillipines you have to speak good English (which is one of the two official languages of the country); and also the culture dictates that a sick person be treated as one of the carer's family. I know many Pinoy, and I've never met one, adult or child, who couldn't speak English well.

I was once invited to a Mass at St Quadraginta, celebrated by a Philippine priest, who stated that the country was starting to run out of nursing and care staff. Similarly, Mr Lansley stated that "our recruitment from such countries just cannot go on".

In the same vein, last year Poland's Deputy Culture Minister pleaded with Polish emigrant workers to come home. In as little as 4 years, the country will be hosting Expo 2012, and co-hosting the Euro 2012 football championships, and there aren't enough skilled workers to build the necessary structures. In May this year, The Guardian reported Eastern European workers leaving Ireland for fear of racism in the economic downturn.

Now that the downturn looks like a plunge, there is much unease in the UK about immigrants. Not just migrant labour, but populations so numerous that they can exercise no small influence in the country, for better - like the Philippinos - or for worse.
Julie Spence, Cambridgeshire Constabulary Chief Constable
For example, Richard Edwards of The Telegraph reported in August that just as "cheating the system" became a way of life under the Communist régime in Poland, so the magazine Przeglad released an issue on how to get gas, electricity, mobile phones and accomodation without paying. Way of life or not, the news could hardly have come at a worse time for Poles, whose community leaders met with Cambrigdgeshire Constabulary Chief Constable Julie Spence, after voicing fears that Ms Spence might be the subject of hate-attacks after she was brave enough to link increased migration (there are now 95 languages spoken in Cambridgeshire schools) to rising crime levels and a need for greater funding.

In September, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK, claimed that Western actions in Pakistan would radicalise young Muslims to the point that the streets of Britain would be less safe in the light of calls for Pakistanis' anger to be organised.

Earlier this week, The Guardian's Sarfraz Manzoor wrote a rather thoughtful meditation oSarfraz Manzoor at the Guardiann whether multiculturalism served Britain's communities well, and if the rise of "political Islamism" might not render Enoch Powell's speech at the then Midland Hotel, notoriously misnamed the "rivers of blood" speech, "if not prophetic, then at least bracingly relevant."

Manzoor's article was entitled "Can Muslims trust the Tories?" This exercised click to go to Cranmer's blogCranmer somewhat; in a tightly argued essay His Grace pointed out that "political Islamism" is a tautology, and towards the end posed the question: "what makes you think Muslims can trust Labour?"

I can only reply to Cranmer's question with another: "why should we think that any group without the necessary political clout to swing the next election in Labour's favour can trust it?"

Without wanting to get into the issue of "stealth amnesty", last year 19,000 asylum-seekers (not counting dependants) were given leave to stay in Great Britain, and will be eligible for passports - and presumably voting rights - in five years. How many of these deals have been done? This year, the "Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust published a report voicing concern about the "Purity of Elections" in the UK, regarding which I've posted an extract concerning a cause célèbre in Burnley, Lancashire.

How many amnesties have been given apart from the one reported by the Times? How many will be looking forward to passports due not long after 2010, the latest an election can be held?

How will Labour resist playing the race card, saying that we nasty Tories will break Labour's promises?

On a positive note, when Minora comes home from school I'll be able to show her aclick to see the British Army website for the Brigade of the Gurkhas story on the front page of today's paper about a group of people born far away from Britain who have won a battle to remain in this country, despite the government fighting them tooth and nail. Sometimes a good story breaks through the gloom - the Gurkhas can stay.

Which leaves just one more question - where are our children getting the idea that to love one's country makes one a racist?