Saturday, May 02, 2009

Britain's Got Les Miserables

Jamie Pugh sang very well, but they really milked the Susan Boyle set-up tonight.

Time for a Political Re-Alignment

Labour MPs facing a 'heart and soul battle' as secret talks held with Liberal democrats about defecting | Mail Online

Labour MPs unhappy with Gordon Brown's leadership have held secret talks with the Liberal Democrats about defecting, it emerged last night.

In a stark sign of mounting Labour disillusionment, senior MPs revealed they are prepared to abandon the party amid fears it is becoming increasingly Left-wing.

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown told The Telegraph that up to a dozen Blairite MPs have been involved in private talks about defecting.

Good. There are many many people in this country who find the choice of three conservative parties - New Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Tories - a real problem.

At least left wing opinion in Scotland or Wales has the option of the left-nationalist parties.

So bring it on. The grand realignment. A Tory government which leads to Scottish and Welsh independence; a political calculus in England in which the Lib Dems can demand proportional representation; and a genuinely left wing Labour Party.

Sounds good to me.

Big Brother 2009

Campaigners monitored by civil servants | UK news | The Guardian

Government officials have been monitoring environmental campaign groups and then passing intelligence on to the police, according to documents seen by the Guardian.

An internal risk report from the Department for Transport reveals that a unit referred to as the comms directorate �'continuously monitor[ed]' peaceful protest groups opposed to the expansion of Heathrow airport and then briefed detectives about their findings.

The disclosure is the latest evidence of a wide-ranging crackdown on environmental campaign groups and has been condemned by MPs and civil liberty groups.

This situation is New Labour's biggest failure.

Jesus Saves, Not the Bible

Guest Voices: Jesus Saves, Not the Bible - On Faith at

In an interesting article in the Washington Post Bart Ehrman points out a problem with Fundamentalist Christianity.

The idea that to be a Christian you have to 'believe in the Bible' (meaning, believe that it is in some sense infallible) is a modern invention. Church historians have traced the view, rather precisely, to the Niagara Conference on the Bible, in the 1870s, held over a number of years to foster belief in the Bible in opposition to liberal theologians who were accepting the results of historical scholarship. In 1878 the conference summarized the true faith in a series of fourteen statements. The very first one -- to be believed above all else -- was not belief in God, or in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was belief in the Bible.

Iraqi Gays Face Gruesome Torture/ Murder Technique

GayCityNews - Iraqi Gays Face Gruesome Torture/ Murder Technique

As the murder campaign targeting Iraqi gays intensifies, a leading Arabic television network last week revealed the use of a horrifying new form of lethal torture against Iraqi gay men - anti-gay Shiite death squads are sealing their anuses with a powerful glue, then inducing diarrhea, which leads to a painful and agonizing death. The use of this stomach-turning new torture was first reported by the Al Arabiya network, which is headquartered in the United Arab Emirates and was alerted to the story by a leading Iraqi feminist and human rights activist.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Carol Ann Duffy: ‘Sexuality is a lovely, ordinary, normal thing’ - fr

Carol Ann Duffy: ‘Sexuality is a lovely, ordinary, normal thing’ - from Pink News - all the latest gay news from the gay community - Pink News

The new Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has said it 'fantastic' that she is an openly gay writer.

At her first conference since accepting the position, she said: 'Sexuality is something that is celebrated now we have civil partnerships and it's fantastic that I'm an openly gay writer, and anyone here or watching the interviews who feels shy or uncomfortable about their sexuality should celebrate and be confident and be happy.

'It's a lovely, ordinary, normal thing.'

The press overall seem to have neglected this, which is perhaps a good thing. She has said that she does not want to be known as a "lesbian poet" as this "limits her."

Tristram Hunt: The Marxist misanthrope

Tristram Hunt: The Marxist misanthrope | Comment is free | today's rally hears from the Cuban ambassador and messages of solidarity from workers' parties across the world, British activists might like to ponder the awkward fact that part of the reason why there is no Marxism in Britain is because Marx and Engels actually lived here.

Two Songs for May Day

The Red Flag [Wikipedia here]

The workers' flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead;
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
Their life-blood dyed its every fold.


Then raise the scarlet standard high;
Beneath its folds we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

The Internationale [Wikipedia here]

Arise ye starvelings [or workers] from your slumbers
Arise ye criminals of want
For reason in revolt now thunders
and at last ends the age of cant.
Now away with all your superstitions
Servile masses arise, arise!
We'll change forthwith [or henceforth] the old conditions
And spurn the dust to win the prize.


Then come comrades rally
And the last fight let us face
The Internationale
Unites the human race. (repeat).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ten Best Gay Disco Songs

For May Day Weekend

[This is my Gay Disco version. Gay Disco had almost no contact with Straight Disco.]

Not in order:

1. "Gloria" Laura Branigan Live

2 Thelma Houston-Dont Leave me this way

3. Hazell Dean - Searchin' - Top of the Pops 1984

4. I Feel Love - Donna Summer

5. Donna Summer McArthur Park

6. DIVINE - You Think You're A Man


8. Lime - Guilty (1983)

9. Miquel Brown - So Many Men So Little Time


11. I will survive - Gloria Gaynor

12. Nipple 2 the bottle Grace Jones

Updated: November 2009 (to replace bad links)

The Seventh Seal?

Kenneth R Miller: Seals, evolution, and the real 'missing link' | Comment is free |
We found another 'missing link' this month. Or, to be more precise, a team of Canadian and American scientists found a missing link between modern seals and their land-dwelling ancestors. A report in this week's Nature magazine described fossils of an extinct land-dwelling animal, now called Puijila darwini, discovered in the Canadian arctic. Its remarkable skeletal structure provides a spectacular demonstration of how evolution modified the limbs of a land-dwelling animal to produce the flippers of modern seals and sea lions.

I am sure evolution is true as science, but I don't like it. It makes the physical world evil.

There really should be a modernization of Zoroastrian (or other) dualism that accepts the reality of the physical world, but which, like the squire in The Seventh Seal, says to nature, " I yield, but I do not submit."

Screw Prohibition!

Wine may help men outlive teetotallers | Society | The Guardian

'Long-term wine consumers had about five years longer life expectancy at age 50 compared with non-alcohol users. Of these five years, about two years can be attributed to an effect of alcohol intake. The remaining three years can be attributed to an effect of wine consumption.'

Britain's vibrator capital revealed

Britain's vibrator capital revealed |

Coventry is the vibrator capital of Britain - according to a sex survey released today.

It makes being "sent to Coventry" a very different prospect.

[American readers: this is impossible to explain.]

The Drumbeat: An Upcoming Israeli Strike on Iran

Iain Dale's Diary: UK Banks Banning Iranian Customers?

I heard something interesting tonight while dining with friends. I haven't got the time today to follow this up, but a financial journalist might wish to do so. I was told that America banks are withdrawing all facilities from Iranian customers, and unilaterally closing their accounts with no prior consultation. But more to the point, British banks have started to do the same. One Iranian national, who has been a customer of the Royal Bank of Scotland for thirty years, was told his account was being closed. There was no explanation beyond him being told that it was now bank policy to withdraw all banking facilities from Iranian related accounts. This is, I am told, also happening in other UK banks. And it's being dictated by the US government - or so it is alleged.

Gordon Brown and Decency

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Brown to honour 'heroes of the Holocaust'

Gordon Brown, on a visit to Auschwitz today, has revealed that he will tomorrow in the House of Commons announce a new award for British heroes of the Holocaust.

Last week was the Jewish Yom Ha'Shoah commemoration, which marks the religious commemoration of the Holocaust. Research that will be done annually for this day was published for the first time this year and showed the extent to which criticism of Israel can be a cover for anti-Semitism, even when that criticism is legitimate.

Gordon Brown has long wanted to visit Auschwitz. His father, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, belonged to a church group which supported the foundation of the state of Israel.

I think the problem with Gordon Brown is that, although he moves like Iago as a politician, he is a fundamentally decent and educated man who sees life within a moral compass. Perhaps more so than Blair, and I think more so than Cameron or Clegg. (Among the Tories, I would cite David Davies and Anne Widdecombe as among those who are concerned with what is right as much as what is politic).

The problem is he is just an awful Prime Minister. It's a real tragedy.

Btw. Anyone can make missteps on the Holocaust - see this report in Haaretz on a problem for Yad Veshem.

What will Obama do about Israel?

ANALYSIS / Netanyahu will have to work to restore U.S.-Israel ties - Haaretz - Israel News

Israel has enjoyed a 'waiting period' in its relationship with Obama, but this period will end when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington on May 18. Obama and other senior administration officials have made it clear to Netanyahu that he should not waste their time by turning the visit into a public relations campaign; rather, he must propose practical steps for furthering the diplomatic process and improving the lot of the Palestinians. Netanyahu wants to place Iran at the top of the agenda, but U.S. officials will explain that Israel will have to give something in return.

The first question Obama should ask is, Do you think we are absolute fools about what has been going on with settlements?

And should make it clear, that if Israel will not really work for a two state solution, the US must work for a polity - perhaps via cantonment - that admits the current one state reality in which circa 45% of the population are treated as B-class subjects.

Stephen Fry's letter to his 16-year-old self | Media | The Guardian

Stephen Fry's letter to his 16-year-old self | Media | The Guardian

Just who was the young, arrogant and confused man to whom Stephen Fry recently felt compelled to write a long and heartfelt letter? Himself, 35 years ago"

I found this interesting and moving.

I wrote a letter to my future self back when I was 20. Sadly I lost it.

But Stephen is right - love and lack of it are the most important things.

There is NO Alternatiive

Tesco unravels toilet paper's carbon footprint | Environment |

Steel yourself, here's the news you've been waiting to hear: the carbon footprint of each lavatorial wipe you make. (It's certainly news that Sheryl Crow will be no doubt desperate to hear, given her previous thoughts on this issue). Drum roll, please: Tesco says that each sheet of its recycled toilet roll uses '1.1g of carbon' compared to 1.8g for its standard toilet roll.

Let's give that some sort of context. Google declared earlier this year that each Google search generates 0.2g of CO2. So now we know that using one sheet of recycled toilet paper has the same carbon footprint as performing five-and-a-half Google searches.

We now also know that you would have to get through 200 sheets of toilet paper before you matched the carbon footprint of one carton of orange juice. Or 773 sheets of toiler paper before you equalled the carbon footprint of just one washload's worth of biological washing powder. We know all this because the Carbon Trust, who do the sums for Tesco, tells us so.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Our Next PM on Ecstasy?

At least according to Guido.

It probably what makes him such an empathic guy.

There is more at Londoner's Diary

With this video. Way to go Dave. (if it was Dave) [And if it was not Dave, well we all still need to feel that groove] {Daddio}

This blessed plot

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,—
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

One of my former students, an American, wrote to me recently about freedom and speech in the UK.

I’d love to hear your take on some things going on in the UK concerning freedom of speech. I’m thinking of incidents like the Scientology protest arrest and the problems Fred Phelps and Geert Wilders had getting into the country (I wouldn’t really want them here either). Specifically, I’m interested in what you see as the primary motivation for restrictions on religiously offensive speech. I see several possibilities: 1) concern over civil unrest and violence that could follow anything the Islamic community might interpret as blasphemy, 2) the logical extension of laws intended to prevent jihadist speech in mosques to Christian (Phelps) and right-wing (Wilders) nut jobs as well, or 3) the simple desire of liberal political correctness to make sure no group is ever offended. If you have some time I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in a post of some kind. Do people there even see this as an issue? It seems odd to hear about this type of stuff in places so much like the United States because it seems like these things could never happen here. Knock on wood.

My response

Actually as a practical matter entry for extremists speakers, at least from Europe, is probably easier here than in the US. These were very much rare cases. What is different here is that hate speech laws, and the Race Relations Act going back to 1968, also make some domestic speech that would be protected in the US liable to prosecution here in the UK. Such prosecutions are very rare.

Some people here do worry about Islamic unrest, but the primary motivation is the desire of people in the UK for a safe and quiet life.

We live here on an Island than can easily be self-sufficient in food, that (unless the gulf stream stops) will do relatively well out of global warming, and where we have no earthquakes or hurricanes. Natural disasters are rare.

Although there are continual complaints about crime, it is incredibly low in the UK. In my city of Manchester, the rounding up of one gang has reduced all gun crimes from around 36 per year to 3 per year in 2008. I.e. in a Police area encompassing 2.5 million people, we had three gun crime murders. Compare that to Jacksonville in Florida where a city of 800,000 saw perhaps 120 gun crime murders.

For the most part British people hold strong opinions but reject any violent political ideology.

For the sake of safety, even though politicians are despised, people in general are willing to allow the state to do a great deal that might be suspect in order to preserve public order. In return the state is very mild. For example, in a country of 60 million people only 80,000 are in jail.

It's a different society here than in the US. It's not really less free, although there is more state surveillance. The major point, however, is that public policy is above all ordered to public safety and the vast majority of people or all political persuasions support that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

RIP Bea Arthur

Beatrice Arthur - Telegraph

She was My Golden Girl. I always wanted to be Blanche, but I just know I am a Dorothy.

Swine Flu: The Value of Life

According to the BBC

The UK has 33 million flu/Tamiflu treatments stockpiled, for a pop of 60 million.

India has 2 million treatments for a pop of c 1 Billion (.0025%)

It's true the UK is a richer country, but India spends more of GOLD imports than any other country, and is now doing Moon shots.

The inescapable conclusion, however politically incorrect, is that a some fundamental level the UK government values individual life more than the Indian Government.

The Matrix Runs on Windows

Via Tom Harris

The Lives of Others: Britain 2009?

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is an award winning 2006 film about the Stasi in East Germany, yet the lessons from the film has striking parallels with Great Britain in 2009. Here subtitles are added to the trailer of the film. Numerous references in the subtitles are from news stories in spring 2009 in the UK.

Via Iain Dale

What Would Brits Think about Torture?

Gawker - Spook's Torture Lie Made Waterboarding Cool - John kiriakou

"A 'former' CIA officer named John Kiriakou told ABC News that spies broke an al Qaeda terrorist in '30, 35 seconds,' using waterboarding. The story spread everywhere. Of course it was a horrific lie.

Kiriakou told ABC's Brian Ross the alleged terrorist, Abu Zubayadah, broke in less than a minute and 'from that day on he answered every question.' The story spread to the major press outlets, and conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and National Review's Jonah Goldberg used it to defend waterboarding.

I guess we just assume MI5 does it as necessary.

Lazy Ants

Scientist at Work - Anna Dornhaus - Researcher Studies Ants and Bees, One by One -

Dr. Dornhaus found that fast ants took one to five minutes to perform a task — collecting a piece of food, fetching a sand-grain stone to build a wall, transporting a brood item — while slow ants took more than an hour, and sometimes two. And she discovered that about 50 percent of the other ants do not do any work at all. In fact, small colonies may sometimes rely on a single hyperactive overachiever.

Why do some worker ants lean on their shovels and let the rest of the workers do all the work? “It’s like students living together — you’ll always find one will have a lower threshold for doing the washing up and will end up always doing it all,” she said.

Perhaps the division of labor — which the economist Adam Smith linked to human achievement — may not be the key to ant success. Possibly, Dr. Dornhaus said, “the lazing ants are resting, or are waiting in reserve in case something goes wrong.” Or the laggards may be cooking up some biochemical nest protection. (All ant species manufacture a fungicide to stave off mold in their nests.) Or, she said, “It’s possible they aren’t doing anything at all.”

Monday, April 27, 2009

The First Hundred Days

Ref: The Corner

Reagan on Torture

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Andrew just won all the arguments.

Appleyard: Torture

Thought Experiments : The Blog: Torture

Whatever else is decided, it should be quite clear that if Lynndie England went to prison, then so should a lot of much more senior people, probably including, at least, Rumsfeld.


Andrew Sullivan on the Need for Justice

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

"We don't want vengeance. We want America back. And we are going to fight on and on until we get it back."

I agree with Andrew. We just need to wait eight years.

Prosecuting Bush, Cheney, and Rice

There is now clear evidence that the regime of President GW Bush, R Cheney, aided by C Rice authorized and promulgated a regime of torture.

I am far more left wing than almost any American, but I just want to say that I think David Frum (a decent Republican) has a point in objecting to any prosecutions right now.

Cheney is acting unbelievably badly (compare him to how restrained George HW Bush was about Clinton) and needs to be called on that. And I agree Bush should be tried. But by the next president.

Look, Gore was cheated in 2000, and he could have made things very messy. But ultimately he decided that the, while clearly no constitution is perfect, his own ambitions were not enough to force a destablising contest with the Supreme Court.

Lincoln (Habeas Corpus) and Roosevelt (Japanese internment) clearly committed constitutional violations, but, fortunately from one point of view, died before these could become an issue.

I am no fan of American exceptionalism, but in many ways the US remains the last best hope for good in Human Government. A pattern of wrecking vengeance on previous governments would utterly destroy one of its strengths.

Obama should announce that violators of the Geneva Conventions may face prosecution under his presidency, but that, because of the need to preserve the stable constitution, any prosecution of Bush, Cheney, or Rice must wait until AFTER his presidency.

Epidemics and Fibonacci

I have not worked this out, but I would like to know if the the plotting of this epidemic is looking (roughly) like a Fibonacci sequence - i.e. 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21

If so, that is bad. Mother Nature loves Fibonacci sequences

UDDATE: For a Saner View see What Did You Expect from

Nature Hates Republicans

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Earthquake in Mexico City

God seems to be testing people with the "problem of evil issue" today in Mexico. La Morena needs to have a word with Abba!

Classical Music Blogging

I don't really cover classical music here, although it is a major interest of mine.

For a the most lively Classical Music blog see Michael White in the Telegraph.

James Purnell: The Minister for Attacking Chavs

Minister James Purnell accused of leaving his flat 'like a pigsty' - Telegraph

James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, lost his deposit after his landlord claimed he had spilt wine on the wall, stained the carpets and left the kitchen in a filthy condition.

The minister, tipped as a future Labour leader, claimed �100 a month for cleaning and a further �586 for repairs on the duplex flat, which has a roof terrace overlooking Covent Garden in central London.

End the University as We Know It - Or More Crap from the NYT

Op-Contributor - End the University as We Know It - Op-Ed -

There is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text. As financial pressures on university presses continue to mount, publication of dissertations, and with it scholarly certification, is almost impossible. (The average university press print run of a dissertation that has been converted into a book is less than 500, and sales are usually considerably lower.)

I have not (yet) published my dissertation on Women's Bodies, Men's Souls: Sanctity and Gender in Byzantium, although I still have hopes.

But this NYT op-ed piece is both americano-centric, and ignores the reality of what a dissertation is about. A dissertation is meant to be narrow. Anything that is not narrow is little more than an opinion piece.

Furthermore, it is worthwhile in and of itself to try for a limited number of years to engage one's mind in an intense understanding of at least one thing.

There is an observable and significant difference in the teaching style and abilities of Ph.D. vs Masters degree holders. Typically masters students have no real grasp of the hierarchy of sources (there are exceptions, of course). This may be fine in introductory level courses, but not more focused courses.

And ultimately there is the elitist claim. Studying at the highest level (although the US/UK PH.D. falls short of some of the German or Finnish highest degree strands), makes one in some sense a better person.

Sadly my Greek is good enough to to translate from what is essentially a trot. But I get more from Homer in Fagles or Lattimore's translation.

But I firmly believe, and assert, that the by now very rare ability to read and enjoy Homer in one's head - where one grasps the references and subtleties of grammar makes one, in some sense a better person. Someone indeed who has made good use of the time they are given in this universe where consciousness is gift we hardly yet grasp.

I can fully grasp Shakespeare, and at least some of Voltaire. And I think that makes me in some sense a better person that someone who only grasps techno music.

I am prepared to give equal kudos to those mathematicians who can see the Platonic beauty of maths.

I refuse to the cowed by the grade-grubbing Wikipedia copying students who claim to be "professionals" without the ability to appreciate the grand tradition.

Twenty Firsts Meme

Via Iain Dale

First Job
Hiring out deckchairs on Saltcoats beach in 1976

First Real Job
Coordinator of volunteers, YWCA, Edinburgh.
First post Ph.D. Job; Asst. Prof. Brooklyn College.

First Role in Politics
Joined Labour Party in Edinburgh Central, 1983.
Active in London Pride, Act-UP/NYC, and Queer Nation/NY

First Car
A horrid Honda Prelude that blew three cylinders within 3 months. Extra fact: first ever control of a car by myself, was after buying said car at Madison Avenue and 36th St.

First Record
Andre Previn's recording of Rachmaninov's Second Symphony.

First Football Match
Manchester Utd v Huddersfield, circa 1972. At Old Trafford (walkable from where I lived). I saw George Best, Bobby Charlton, and Denis Law play

First Concert
Either Leonard Cohen in Edinburgh or Joan Baez in Caesarea Israel.

First Country Visited
USSR (Now Ukraine) [We saw Kiev, Leningrad and Moscow]. On a High School trip from Ardrossan Academy in 1977. The USSR under Brezhenev did not look especially bad, and from then on I opposed any notion of dropping nuclear weapons on these people.I enjoyed the day trip to a Komosol camp and singing Kalinka. I was also cruised in an art gallery in Kiev, although, alas, I did not realise what was happening at the time.

First TV Appearance
On a conflict-style debate show, representing Queer Nation, in Detroit, 1988

First Political Speech
Attacking abortion in a debate at High School

First Boyfriend
Leo A. Who I met in 1992, and lived with for 4 years; and with whom I am still best friends.

First Encounter with a Famous Person
Meeting Chris Smith MP, on a Pride London march.

First Brush With Death
Testing HIV Positive in 1990

First House/Flat Owned
Never owned a house or flat.

First Film Seen at a Cinema
Sound of Music at Gaumont Manchester. Saw Batman and Robin the week after. Then Dumbo. My Mum was training me to be queer.

First Time on the Radio
Defending Pope John Paul II as a an economic radical on WBAI in New York

First Politician I Met
Michael Ancram MP, Robin Cook MP, or Chris Smith MP. I recall one of them was gay.

First Book I Remember Reading
Something about helicopters by Enid Blyton

First Visit to the London Palladium
Sneaked in to see La Cage au Folles, 1986

First Election
1979. I voted Conservative vs. Robin Cook in Edinburgh central on the abortion issue. Thinking that through moved me left. Far Far Left. I liked the Bennite book MANIFESTO in 1982. I still do. Except I would keep the Queen.

First Political Speech
When I told my Mum, Harold Wilson's "White Hot Technology Speech" was hot shit.

Back on Blog: Back from Paris

I just returned from an exhausting charabanc trip (two days travel, one day there) to Paris. It was in reality, a sib-bonding exercise for me and my sister.

She liked Paris and especially Notre-Dame. But did not feel up to visiting any museum.

I should say that my sister, who is no historian nor intellectual, did lead me to look at the polychrome scenes from the passion and life of Christ in the ambulatory around the altar in a way I have never looked at them before.

Also, I suppose I leached on her wonder as we sat in the nave and "observed" mass. She had never really bothered to sit down in the nave of a medieval Cathedral before. I felt again, through here, the sheer stunning perfection of Notre Dame.

Other people on the charabanc declared that Paris was "boring" and "too cold".

Oy. Vey.