Saturday, May 16, 2009

A View of Malik from an Indian Posting in the NY Times

Comment 12.

I am not a supporter of Mr. Malik. He should have known what is considered a luxury in his country.

Here in India, flat screen TVs and massage chairs are not considered a luxury by the employees who owe their jobs to outsourcing from Western countries. In fact, flat screen TV and a car are the first things they buy when they get their job. The other day, I saw two massage chairs in the waiting hall of a new movie theater in this town - available for free use when your turn comes.

There is something wrong with the citizenry of what used to be a mighty empire. If I were a legislator, and travel frequently between the capital, and far away home constituency, my bottom will definitely hurt, and I would crave to use a massage chair, particularly if I were young. If I were a new legislator and furnishing a second home, I would rather buy the TV with current technology at a somewhat higher cost than the cheaper one with outdated technology.

So there is some problem with Mr. Malik who does not know his country well. But there is a bigger problem with the country which had elected him, and now trying to pull him down.

In my view, instead of complaining about his choices, he should be required to pass those items on to the next legislator who succeeds him.

— RMK, Hyderabad, India

Make MPs "Prove their Innocence" ?

"Prove their innocence" sums up many of the messages on Iain Dale's blog, and many newspaper comments

Its is true, this is what happens to many people charged by the police or given the "fixed penalty notices" approved by MPs, but it is not actually the British Way.

Look, an IQ of 100 is average. That means half the people are below average.

But that does not stop them posting on blogs or giving idiotic interviews to journalists.

What we are seeing here is mob anger stirred by press lords eager to hide their own much worse tax "avoidance" [I.e. "legal within the rules" rather than "evasion" which is illegal].

No wonder the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph are leading this.

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Gay protest broken up in Moscow

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | Gay protest broken up in Moscow

Police in Russia have broken up a protest by gay rights activists in Moscow, staged to coincide with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Some 30 campaigners had gathered near a university in defiance of a ban on their march and many were dragged away by police when they shouted slogans.

British gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, was among those detained.

A counter-demonstration by nationalist and religious groups was allowed to go ahead elsewhere in the Russian capital.

Lousy Russian Homophobes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Andrew Sullivan on Obama's New Top General

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Why would Barack Obama appoint someone whose line of command made him directly responsible for a place that made Abu Ghraib look like the Brookings Institution.

A very good question.

This is my first big doubt about Obama.

"There is now a clear and present danger that Labour will become the third party"

There is now a clear and present danger that Labour will become the third party | The Spectator

The Labour party now has three weeks to save itself from oblivion. The only question facing MPs is whether the open fratricide that would follow a challenge to Gordon Brown would be preferable to the death by a thousand humiliating cuts if the Prime Minister sits tight at Number 10.

The European and local council elections on 4 June have been as good as written off by the party. Beyond the Prime Minister’s inner circle there is now a tangible fury at Gordon Brown, with the Damian McBride affair, the Gurkha fiasco and the expenses scandal merely reinforcing what they knew already about the Prime Minister. Where there was once grudging respect and then pity there is now barely disguised disdain. One Labour backbencher told me this week: ‘If on 5 June Alan Johnson was minded to say he was a candidate, a large number of people would crush Gordon in the rush to nominate him. Gordon Brown is destroying the Labour party.’

And Polly Toynbee agrees in The Guardian.

What is the Daily Telegraph up to?

I agree some MPs - from all parties - seem to have acted like pigs at the trough. But the total amount concerned is just under £16 million per year for ALL the MPs together. This is a really small amount in context. About the cost of a a military helicopter perhaps?

Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph is owned by those weird brothers who live in a fake castle off the coast of Sark and have every interest in seeing our elected representatives reduced in power.

The alternative to the House of Commons and Parliament is not freedom, but exclusive control by the very rich and very powerful - think of somewhere like Dubai, where thousands of workers live in block-houses while the rich live in palaces.

Eugenics in Israel: Did Jews try to improve the human race too?

Eugenics in Israel: Did Jews try to improve the human race too? - Haaretz - Israel News

In 1944, psychiatrist Kurt Levinstein gave a lecture at a Tel Aviv conference, where he advocated preventing people with various mental and neurological disorders - such as alcoholism, manic depression and epilepsy - from bringing children into the world.

The means he proposed - prohibition of marriage, contraception, abortion and sterilization - were acceptable in Europe and the United States in the first decades of the 20th century, within the framework of eugenics: the science aimed at improving the human race.

In the 1930s, the Nazis used these same methods in the early stages of their plan to strengthen the Aryan race. Levinstein was aware, of course, of the dubious political connotations implicit in his recommendations, but believed the solid and salutary principles of eugenics could be isolated from their use by the Nazis.

A very interesting article in Ha'aretz which is in no way a condemnation of the Israeli state. Rather it addresses the excesses of psychiatrists in the 1940s and after.

Some Sense on MPs Salaries

The true patrons of this greed are an over-mighty press | Martin Kettle | Comment is free |

One basic reason why politics has reached this point is that members of parliament were historically poorly paid for the amount of work that modern MPs expect to do. In 1983, when Gordon Brown first went to the Commons, an MP earned just over £15,000. It was an absurdly low figure even then. So what did those who could have changed the system do? They did nothing. Margaret Thatcher refused to give MPs the increase they needed or the framework for future salary review that would have put parliamentary financing on a defensible basis. And John Major, Tony Blair and Brown all followed her lead. Today's £65,000 parliamentary salary is better in real terms than 1983, and it is certainly a good income, but it is not high when compared with legislators in many other countries, or with the professions with whom MPs might sensibly be compared.

Why did Thatcher and the rest hold off? Not because MPs didn't need the money or wouldn't vote for it. They held off because they were afraid of the newspapers, particularly the Sun. They were not prepared to risk the wrath of Rupert. It was the press who stood between MPs and a sensible income. So the true patron of the expenses system against which the press rages today is the press itself.

To see the Daily Mail, owned by the tax-dodging Lord Rothermere (Private Eyes, passim); and the Daily Telegraph, owned by the really weird Barclay brothers, lead an effort at lynching is disgraceful.

UPDATE: One of the worst cases so far has been of the married Tory MPs Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride. But in fact this story was, to its credit, pushed by an internal Conservative Party review. The Telegraph said nothing, perhaps because Ms. Kirkbride was a senior former employee there. See article at The Guardian.

Nascar's Roots May Go Way Back -

Nascar's Roots May Go Way Back -

[NASCAR for Brits stands for "stock-car racing", a sport dating from the 1940s.]

Nascar's Roots May Go Way Back
One Scholar Believes Nascar Races Are an Update of the Medieval Joust; 'Knights' in Firesuits

Deep-fried Twinkies, jars of moonshine and kegerators set up in the backs of recreational vehicles at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway. To one scholar, these aren't just the trappings of a modern-day Nascar race weekend -- they're evidence of a hidden past.

"It's almost a direct carryover from the Middle Ages," says Karyn Rybacki, a professor of communication studies and public relations at Northern Michigan University. Ms. Rybacki, who studies stock-car racing, says the cultural elements of Nascar races -- where fans travel many miles to attend, wear the colors of their favorite teams and virtually knight popular drivers -- may be directly descended from medieval times, when people came in droves to make merry before another fast and dangerous form of competition, the joust.
Ms. Rybacki says the similarities first struck her when she received a grant more than a decade ago to research fan behavior at the Daytona 500. She likens the giant mugs of beer, sausage and roasted turkey legs popular at Nascar concessions to the foods served at medieval festivals. "It was almost like being thrown into a Renaissance fair without the medieval costumes," she says....

None of this is true, other than general observations that might made between any two competition games.

The article does allow a medievalist a say, but does not take him seriously.

Paul Freedman, a medieval history professor at Yale University, says the aristocratic nature of jousting make it much more similar to a refined game of polo than gritty stock-car racing. "Ordinary people did not have enough wealth to fight on horseback," Mr. Freedman says. As for Ms. Rybacki's theory, he says "I can't see it and I can't believe it."

The really weird thing for me is that Ms. Rybacki seems to think that "Renaissance Faires" have any connection with medieval reality.

There's Nothing British about the BNP

Tim Montgomerie of ConHome has launched a campaign which aims to explain how the BNP is anything but British. The NothingBritish website explains more. Some people will no doubt think it is ill advised to give the BNP more publicity. Wrong. They must be taken on.

Via Iain Dale

The UK MP Expenses Scandal for American Readers

There is a HUGE House of Commons expenses scandal going on which has damaged the reputations of all MP's (fairly and unfairly), and it is generally felt the Speaker of the House has not helped by the way he has responded to this.

This scandal has consumed virtually all news media and comment here for the past seven days, since new stories are being linked by the Daily Telegraph each day, stories generated by a leaked compact disk with over a million receipts and pieces of correspondence.

The reason such a system exists is that over the past twenty years governments from both major parties have compensated MP's for keeping their salaries down, and which many MP's seem to have come to see as an entitlement to be asked through any receipts they can get their hands on, up to and including faking property deals.

The total amount involved is relatively small (just under £16,000,000 was available per year to 646 MPs), but it seems fair to say that while MP's had come to see this as just another part of their salary, most of the public do not.

The whole affair is especially damaging to the already weakened Labour government, but is damaging all the main parties.

All the other media are having to play the Daily Telegraph's tune, as it is deciding the order of the leaks. It, however, is not a neutral newspaper. It has long been the strongest bastion of the Conservative Party.

More recently it was bought, and is now being run in an extremely weird way by "the Barclay Brothers" - twin property developers who live in a fake castle off the island of Sark.

The Telegraph's coverage is here

UPDATE: For information about the oddity of the Daily Telegraph see Roy Greenslade's comments in The Guardian, as well as his comments here:

TMG's owners, the Barclay boyos, have never given a stuff about journalism. They are notoriously touchy about any criticism. They have been happy to use laws that inhibit press freedom. They want their papers to be mouthpieces for their own reactionary opinions and clamp down - through intermediaries - on anything that runs counter to their views.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gay Catholic Archbishop Speaks Out

Years After Resigning in Disgrace, Archbishop Speaks Out -

In the spring of 2002, as the scandal over sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests was escalating, the long career of Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland of Milwaukee, one of the church’s most venerable voices for change, went up in flames one May morning.

There, on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the archbishop watched a man he had fallen in love with 23 years earlier say in an interview that the Milwaukee archdiocese paid him $450,000 years before to keep quiet about his affair with the archbishop — an affair the man was now calling date rape.

The next day, the Vatican accepted Archbishop Weakland’s retirement.

Archbishop Weakland, who had been the intellectual touchstone for church reformers, has said little publicly since then. But now, in an interview and in a memoir scheduled for release next month, he is speaking out about how internal church politics affected his response to the fallout from his romantic affair; how bishops and the Vatican cared more about the rights of abusive priests than about their victims; and why Catholic teaching on homosexuality is wrong.

“If we say our God is an all-loving god,” he said, “how do you explain that at any given time probably 400 million living on the planet at one time would be gay? Are the religions of the world, as does Catholicism, saying to those hundreds of millions of people, you have to pass your whole life without any physical, genital expression of that love?”

Tory and Labour MPS Leave a Door Open for Lib Dems

Andrew MacKay's appearance on BBC News in the past 15 minutes was a disaster . Perhaps worse than any other MP's effort to apologise.

While I don't think this will help Labour, if the Lib Dems continue to come out as relatively clean as they have done so far, they could really benefit.

I know if I were a Lib Dem ad maker I would just play videos of Labour and Tory MPs.

On the whole, I think, as one might expect, the really bad Tory ones look like already very rich people taking the piss; while Labour ones look like actions by people who have taken all that talk of aspiration too seriously.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New York Times: Sex Toys of Early Europeans

Sexual images in early Homo sapiens European art: A. A "Venus" figurine from Willnedorf, Austria, 105 millimeters in height, dated about 28,000 years ago; B. Female "vulvar" symbols carved on a limestone block from the La Ferrassie rock shelter, southwest France, dated about 35,000 years ago; C. A phallus, carved from the horn core of a bison, from the Blanchard rock shelter, southwest France; the carving is about 36,000 years old and is 250 millimeters long.

Ancient Figurine of Voluptuous Woman Is Found -

No one would mistake the Stone Age ivory carving for a Venus de Milo. The voluptuous woman depicted is, to say the least, earthier, with huge, projecting breasts and sexually explicit genitalia.

Nicholas J. Conard, an archaeologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, who found the small carving in a cave last year, says it is at least 35,000 years old, “one of the oldest known examples of figurative art” in the world. It is about 5,000 years older than some other so-called Venus artifacts made by early populations of Homo sapiens in Europe.

Another archaeologist, Paul Mellars of the University of Cambridge in England, agrees and goes on to remark on the obvious. By modern standards, he says, the figurine’s blatant sexuality “could be seen as bordering on the pornographic.”

Obama administration threatens Britain to keep torture evidence concealed - Glenn Greenwald -

Obama administration threatens Britain to keep torture evidence concealed - Glenn Greenwald -

While we in the UK are obsessed with the MPs expenses scandal, we have lost sight of the huge torture controversy going in the US over the Obama administration's apparent decision to cover up torture authorized under Bush-Cheney.

This is just the introduction to a tremendous post by Glenn Greenwald.

Ever since he was released from Guantanamo in February after six years of due-process-less detention and brutal torture, Binyam Mohamed has been attempting to obtain justice for what was done to him. But his torturers have been continuously protected, and Mohamed's quest for a day in court repeatedly thwarted, by one individual: Barack Obama. Today, there is new and graphic evidence of just how far the Obama administration is going to prevent evidence of the Bush administration's torture program from becoming public.

In February, Obama's DOJ demanded dismissal of Mohamed's lawsuit against the company which helped "render" him to be tortured on the ground that national security would be harmed if the lawsuit continued. Then, after a British High Court ruled that there was credible evidence that Mohamed was subjected to brutal torture and was entitled to obtain evidence in the possession of the British government which detailed the CIA's treatment of Mohamed, and after a formal police inquiry began into allegations that British agents collaborated in his torture, the British government cited threats from the U.S. government that it would no longer engage in intelligence-sharing with Britain -- i.e., it would no longer pass on information about terrorist threats aimed at British citizens -- if the British court disclosed the facts of Mohamed's torture.

It's the Economy Faggot: Andrew Sullivan Gets Cross with Obama

The Fierce Urgency Of Whenever" The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We're firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won't recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they're, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There's a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know. Would you like to join Joe Solmonese and John Berry for cocktails? The inside of the White House is fabulous these days.

Yesterday, Robert Gibbs gave non-answer after non-answer on civil unions and Obama's clear campaign pledge to grant equal federal rights for gay couples; non-answer after non-answer on the military's remaining ban on honest servicemembers. What was once a categorical pledge is now - well let's call it the toilet paper that it is. I spent yesterday trying to get a better idea of what's intended on all fronts, and the overwhelming sense - apart from a terror of saying anything about gay people on the record - is that we are in the same spot as in every Democratic administration: the well-paid leaders of the established groups get jobs and invites, and that's about it. Worse: we will get a purely symbolic, practically useless hate crimes bill that they will then wave in our faces to prove they need do nothing more.

Go for'em Andrew.

Black and white and red all over: Left-wing reads

The Independent: Left -Wing Reads

An interesting list, with comments, from The Independent.

Via LabourList

Do Jews have a Jesus problem? - Haaretz

Do Jews have a Jesus problem? - Haaretz - Israel News

An interesting article from the Israeli paper Ha'aretz

The joke, if that's what it is, goes like this: 'You'll have to forgive us Jews for being a little nervous. Two thousand years of Christian love have worn down our nerves.'

That says it all, doesn't it? The scars of antisemitism and missionary activity, the pathos-drenched sense of humor, the contempt for Christianity - this is certainly how I regarded our local majority religion as I was growing up. When I was a child, Christianity was like the big, stupid bully: at once idiotic, and overwhelmingly powerful. Couldn't they see how ridiculous their religion was? A virgin birth? Santa Claus? An Easter Bunny? A messiah who got killed, but actually died for our sins? And yet, these were the people running our country, telling us which days we get off from school and which we don't, and playing their insidious music every winter.

If the books the Forward receives for review are any indication, I am not alone in my neurosis about Yeshu ben Yoseph. Though nothing, it seems, will match the never-ending torrent of books about the Holocaust, these past few years have seen a small mountain of Jesus books arrive on my desk, most of them not worthy of review. Screeds about how Jesus got Judaism wrong, or how Christians got Jesus wrong, or how much better we are than they are - these are books my younger self would have written.

Surely, some of the Jesus fad is due to the success of David Klinghoffer's 2005 book, "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus." (Answer: We're the chosen people - a nation, not universalists.) But I think a lot of it is also due to our increased confidence as an assimilated minority in the United States. Where once we could have been tortured or burned for not accepting Christ, now we can publish books criticizing him.

Ruth Gledhill - Calls out a Presbyterian minister in anti-gay Nazi sermon rant

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Presbyterian minister in anti-gay Nazi sermon rant

'If there is one issue that threatens to destroy what remains of Europe’s Protestant ecclesiastial communities from within, it is homosexuality. Few Christian communities have kept up with the advance in homosexuals’ civil rights. Perhaps they do not understand how advances in education mean that young people coming out of schools today find opposition to homosexuality in the churches incredible. The Anglican Communion, possibly even the Church of England, might not survive the debate in their present form.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Dan Smail from Harvard (previously a colleague at Fordham) has written a book on how psychotropic alteration (caffeine, tea, chocolate, tobacco, "drugs", benzos, computer games) have become a driving force in world culture since the 16th century.

I have tried coke and speed, and will not do them again (unless offered for free). Weed bores me. But I would try those new alertness drugs, and if the Brave New World Ever came I would take Soma.

And if there were decent ecstasy in Manchester I would try that - but all there is are piperazines and BZP.

I firmly believe everyone should try real E at least once.

As to LSD. I did it once, and found wallpaper turning into a waterfall really interesting for two hours, and then spent 12 hours waiting for it to stop.

As it is, I can be tested for anything and I will come up "clean" (I hate that word).

These are reasons I will never become an MP.

The Owners of the Telegraph vs. Politics

I agree, as a matter of journalistic ethics, that the Daily Telegraph is right publishing this data.

But the Telegraph is backed by the Barclay brothers, and we need to look at an agenda here.

I am no fan of Tory squires, but I would rather have them as part of our national life than weird twin singletons living in even weirder fake castles off the coast of Sark.

ABC's 'Lost' is required viewing for students in college course

ABC's 'Lost' is required viewing for students in UNF course |

Oh dear, I used to teach for 6 years at the University of North Florida.

It's 8 a.m. and a room full of University of North Florida literature students is eager to discuss last night's assignment.

You'd expect to see bleary-eyed students groaning at the thought of in-depth literary analysis of themes and symbolism, but these 27 scholars can't seem to stop talking.

That's because their homework was to watch TV.

Sarah Clarke Stuart teaches a literature course on 'Lost,' the hit ABC show about the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 who crashed on a mysterious island.

It's a mystical show full of puzzles, cliffhangers and frustrations. Try to explain the show to non-watchers and you'll end up sounding like you're on acid:

'I mean, there's polar bears, ghosts and a smoke monster. And, uh, they travel through time, but they can't change anything and, uh, there are these others who don't like the Dharma Initiative. It's trippy.'

With all of the references to literature, physics, religion and even math, you almost need a master's degree to know what's going on. Avid watchers scour message boards and blogs to unlock the secrets.

Muslim appointed head of religion at BBC

Ruth Gledhill - Times Online - WBLG: Muslim appointed head of religion at BBC

Aaqil Ahmed, the innovative and interesting programmer responsible for Channel 4's recent Christianity: A History series, has been appointed the first Muslim head of religion at the BBC, as we report today

I have no problem with a Muslim being appointed head of religious programming, but I think Roth Geldhill goes a bit overboard here.

I am a professional Medievalist and Byzantinist. I watched the Christianity: A History with increasing horror. I shared synopses with other professional medievalist on the Mediev-l list (an old BITNET list which is still the best place for academic medieval), and many others were equally horrified.

The entire project of allowing non-historians to present a "history" was flawed to begin with; the practice was a series of horrifically misleading programmes.

The series did not look beyond traditional views, amassed massive amounts of simply misinformation, and was not as advertised.

It's as if Aaqil Ahmed did not consider even sending out the scripts for academic review.

Just imagine if they did that with physics programmes.

Why Labour's Economic Views Should be Doing Better

Richard Posner, here via Andrew Sullivan:

The financial crash last September and the ensuing depression] have exposed significant analytical weaknesses in core beliefs of conservative economists concerning the business cycle and the macroeconomy generally. Friedmanite monetarism and the efficient-market theory of finance have taken some sharp hits, and there is renewed respect for the macroeconomic thought of John Maynard Kenyes, a conservatives' bête noire.

Age and Politicians > LabourList Interview with Iain Dale

The Iain Dale interview |

Iain argues
"It’s ridiculous that politics in this country – and it’s almost unique to this country – writes people off at the age of 50. In Germany and America, most people go into politics once they’ve achieved something in their lives. But why would anyone over 50 go into politics in this country…?"

Iain is absolutely right in this. People are living longer, and keeping their minds clear, and yet are dismissed as active politicians when they reach 60. Contrast this with the US, where Arlen Specter (Senator, Pennsylvania), age 79, has just shifted the balance of power in the US Senate, and intends to run for a six year position in 2010.

To me, David Steel appears a much more balanced and experience politician than Nick Clegg; ditto Charles Clarke compared to, say, George Osborne; and (even though I find his politics too right-wing) Frank Field compared to, say, Ed Miliband.

I'm 48, so I suppose I am on the cusp. Apart from having AIDS, I could live another 40 years. Am I useless from now on?

Cocaine Prices Rising

Drugs busts force wholesale cocaine prices to record levels, says Soca head - Telegraph

Main graphs.

Soca, which was billed as the UK's answer to the US's FBI when it was set up in 2006, has come under pressure over the past year to prove its worth.

The agency said its activities in the run-up to Christmas stopped 10 tonnes of street-quality cocaine powder being sold in Britain.

But figures obtained by the BBC suggest almost a third, or 31 per cent, of police cocaine seizures are now less than 9% pure, the lowest recorded purity level.

The data, collected by the Forensic Science Service (FSS), suggests drug gangs are using more and more chemicals to increase the drug's availability on the UK's streets.

Dealers cut with bicarbonate of soda or Creatine. Pure cocaine does not make your nose smart, and some dealers who sell high end stuff add a little ground up aspirin to make customers happy. In a pub, on a night out, 9-15% cocaine would make most occasional users perfectly happy.

What weedkiller are they talking about.

This is a bullshit news story.

Cocaine can destroy your life. And it makes many people really boring. And it makes it hard to get an errection. And if you take it too long you will begin to hallucinate and have paranoid delusions.

But all this is true of alcohol. I think cocaine should be made legally available, with all due health warnings.

Labour of Love: Lord Foulkes and Stephen Fry: Putting Journalists to the Sword

Labour of Love: Lord Foulkes and Stephen Fry: Putting Journalists to the Sword

Great Post.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Iain Dale's Diary's Commentators on the Speaker

Iain Dale's Diary asked "Speaker Martin: Your Views Please?"

The commentators have been virulently opposed to the Speaker.

Without necessarily disagreeing with the somewhat repetitive comments, I thought there was a certain grandeur Speaker Martin's speech today.

I'm a little taken aback that so many of Iain's commentators seem to think that they are "conservatives". Instead many come across as nutter-right American conservatives. I expect fallacious talk about the origins of the Common Law and/or "black helicopters" to erupt soon.

Surely a core "Tory" belief is in preserving the institutions of the realm and changing them slowly simply because human actions cannot be trusted? The posters there show none of that respect.

As far as I can see, the House of Commons has noticed public discontent and is in the course of addressing the problem.

Personality Type

For those sent here by Tom Harris' blog, expect INTP type posts

The Pope at Yad Vashem

I watched Pope Benedict XVI as he visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem) today.

I am no fan of the pope, although I am Catholic. [For me Catholicism is about grace permeating the natural world though sacramental action rather than church organization.]

The pope argues that the names of those killed are remembered by Almighty God. He was genuinely moving as he recalled how for each of those killed, parents had once prayed for each of them at their birth.

I do not believe that this pope is Anti-Semitic.

I just wish he could find sympathy in his heart for the pain and, yes, persecution so many lesbian, gay, and transgender people live through.

PS: For any event taking place in Israel it is imperative to read Ha'aretz. The paper is Zionist, but prints far more variety of opinion that any western paper, and has in Amira Hass one of the world's great journalists.

PPS: As to the issue of Pope Pius XII, I tend to think he has been unfairly defamed by his detractors. The weird thing is that he is now a hero to Catholic conservatives. In biblical studies, especially, on the issue of evolution, on the legitimacy of using "periodic abstinence" for contraception, he was a flaming liberal.

Danny Finkelstein: Do you love your MP?

Comment Central - Times Online - WBLG: Do you love your MP?

Here are a few positive things I think about MPs:

I think most work very hard, putting in long hours and working weekends. There may be other jobs that are harder, or less well paid, or more inconvenient. But this doesn't detract from the hard work MPs do.

I think many now do good community work, and are in touch with their constituents' difficulties. This is not universal, but it is common.

I think Britain is a stable, peaceful, democratic society and that MPs play a role in this.

Good on Danny Finkelstein for posting this in The Times.

The last point is especially important. I have spent a good part of my life abroad, and people here do not know how good we have it here. Of course there are things to get annoyed about, but nothing and nowhere will ever be perfect. Even if my personal political agenda were fully implemented by this or the next government, things would still go wrong. Mainly because I cannot be sure I am absolutely right about things; and even if I am, the law of unintended consequences will guarantee that future problems will arise.

What's true for me, is true for everyone else.

As to my personal MP - it's Ivan Lewis (Lab., Bury South). I have met him a number of times, and I probably write to him more than he wishes, but he has unfailingly responded, even when I have raised entirely abstruse points.

David Cameron Gets off Lightly

David Cameron limits claims to mortgage and utilities: MPs expenses - Telegraph

For most of the past five years, Mr Cameron has claimed only for mortgage interest and utility bills on his Oxfordshire constituency cottage. Some years, his Parliamentary expense records are only 20 pages long – compared with expense claims of more than 90 pages for some of his colleagues.
However, senior Labour figures have criticised Mr Cameron’s stance, pointing out that he has a large six-figure mortgage and that the taxpayer is subsidising a valuable cottage for the Conservative leader.

They allege that many senior Conservatives are independently wealthy and can therefore subsidise the extra costs associated with being an MP from their own finances.

Mr Cameron claimed more than £1,700 a month in mortgage interest during two of the years covered by Parliamentary records.

In total, Mr Cameron has claimed £82,450 towards the cost of his second home over the past four years. In the 2004-05 financial year, he claimed the maximum allowance but during 2007-08, he was only the 406th highest-claiming MP.

I think David Cameron is getting out of this lightly. Clearly the easiest way to maximise the amount collected from the ACA was to have a high rent or a high mortgage on the second home. It's clearly easier to secure a high mortgage if you are already rich like Mr. Cameron. As a result, although his claims are "simple" and straightforward, that seems to derive from his greater wealth.

With other cases, in which minute details from receipts are causing embarrassment to individual MPs, we are, it seems, dealing with cases less well off people trying to spend up to a limit that Mr. Cameron reached easily.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A year in 40 secs

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

As I watched this, I wanted the middle bit to last longer. That's a bit like life really. Wouldn't it be fun to be 32 for 40 years, even if you still had to die at 72?

A Journey Through Darkness

A Journey Through Darkness - My Life With Chronic Depression -

DEPRESSION — THE THICK BLACK paste of it, the muck of bleakness — was nothing new to me. I had done battle with it in some way or other since childhood. It is an affliction that often starts young and goes unheeded — younger than would seem possible, as if in exiting the womb I was enveloped in a gray and itchy wool blanket instead of a soft, pastel-colored bunting. Perhaps I am overstating the case; I don’t think I actually began as a melancholy baby, if I am to go by photos of me, in which I seem impish, with sparkly eyes and a full smile. All the same, who knows but that I was already adopting the mask of all-rightness that every depressed person learns to wear in order to navigate the world?
As an adult, I wondered incessantly: What would it be like to be someone with a brighter take on things? Someone possessed of the necessary illusions without which life is unbearable? Someone who could get up in the morning without being held captive by morose thoughts doing their wild and wily gymnastics of despair as she measures out tablespoons of coffee from their snappy little aluminum bag: You shouldn’t. You should have. Why are you? Why aren’t you? There’s no hope, it’s too late, it has always been too late. Give up, go back to bed, there’s no hope. There’s so much to do. There’s not enough to do. There is no hope.

Surely this is the worst part of being at the mercy of your own mind, especially when that mind lists toward the despondent at the first sign of gray: the fact that there is no way out of the reality of being you, a person who is forever noticing the grime on the bricks, the flaws in the friends — the sadness that runs under the skin of things, like blood, beginning as a trickle and ending up as a hemorrhage, staining everything. It is a sadness that no one seems to want to talk about in public, at cocktail-party sorts of places, not even in this Age of Indiscretion. Nor is the private realm particularly conducive to airing this kind of implacably despondent feeling, no matter how willing your friends are to listen. Depression, truth be told, is both boring and threatening as a subject of conversation. In the end there is no one to intervene on your behalf when you disappear again into what feels like a psychological dungeon — a place that has a familiar musky smell, a familiar lack of light and excess of enclosure — except the people you’ve paid large sums of money to talk to over the years. I have sat in shrinks’ offices going on four decades now and talked about my wish to die the way other people might talk about their wish to find a lover.

As someone who goes through depression quite often - although not as badly as the writer - I found this article very helpful. She describes exactly the feelings of useless and desire just to stay at home that can just well up, often for no outside reasons, and overwhelm you.

I had never considered reading as a deflection measure, but now see it is. Blogging for me is a way to get my mind on something else.

Peter Mandelson is Right

Gordon Brown is rightly focused on the recession, not his cleaner | Peter Mandelson | The Observer

Running through these past seven months has been a single conviction: that the government cannot stand aside, either in blunting the impact of the recession on homeowners and businesses and returning to full employment, or investing to increase the quality and productivity of the workforce and the national �infrastructure.

Imagine for a moment how a Conservative administration, ideologically opposed to such a positive role for government, would have handled the events of the past year. Northern Rock would have been allowed to fail, regardless of the potential costs in lost deposits and financial panic.

I don't usually agree with Peter Mandelson.

But he is correct in this article. Things will be worse for working people under a Tory government, especially one which pulls in 150 new right wing MPs.

I absolutely deplore this government's record on civil liberties (ID cards, DNA databases, CCTV, email/webbrowsing/IM megabases, privatised prisons), and part of it's economic policy has clearly failed. It was also far to friendly to the city and the rich. And Gordon Brown is useless as a politician.

But it is ludicrous to thing the Tories will be any better *in any of these areas*. Economic policy will be oriented to help the rich *because that is who the Tories represent and what they have always done*.

The Tories will attempt to shred the welfare state. They may go after the universality of benefits and pensions, but doing so would radically undermine the social consensus.

David Davis was brave to stand on the 42 days interment issue, but there is no evidence that the rest of his party will support that.

All my emotions are for Labour and it's core values. I will vote Labour (Bury South is too close a constituency to justify juvenile voting). But what would probably be the best outcome would be some sort of severely hung parliament where Lib Dems would restrain Tory excess, but demand PR. PR would ensure we remain a centre-left nation for ever.

The Damned Parliament ?

Nick Cohen: The Damned Parliament has well earned its title | Comment is free | The Observer

Nick Cohen was right today to quote Macaulay's line from 1830 that no spectacle is "so ridiculous as the British public in one of its periodical fits of morality".

I suppose gay people should be happy that we are no longer targets of this type of hoo-ha.

The country needs to take a librium.