Saturday, May 29, 2004

A Long Overdue Link

To a site which should be nominated for some kind of award for minimalist Web design, the Campaign For Real Education, a pressure group who don't believe that in David Miliband's words, we are producing 'the best educated generation in Britain's history'. I wish they'd make the site look a bit less amateur, but the most important thing is content, and it's full of good stuff. Even the old newsletters are worth reading.

I'm also adding the National Grammar Schools Association. There are still some out there.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Yasmin Alibhai Brown - A Correction

In an earlier post I suggested that "Yasmin Alibhai Brown's Indie article is the first step in the rehabilitation of Mary Whitehouse."

This may not be true, despite Jackie Ashley's "Have we allowed advertisers and TV to coarsen us about sex?" in the Guardian yesterday. There is the possibility that Mary Whitehouse's name will continue to be 'a swearword, a caricature, an effigy to be mocked and scorned', but that this may be, for Yasmin, a 'Melanie Phillips moment'.

She didn't like it when a wealthy TV boss called her 'the next Mary Whitehouse'.

Well, if you want to write 'Sometimes, late at night, when I switch from channel to channel, I feel we are as orgiastic as the Romans before their fall', or of 'smut', 'degeneration', 'exhausting TV porn', 'gyrating MTV', 'debasing', 'gimmicks and pierced midriffs' you'd better get used to it.

Is this the start of the long spiritual odyssey that can surely lead to no other place than the opinion pages of the Daily Mail ? Good luck, Yasmin. You'll need it. But you have the stomach for the fight. Aye, and the liver too.

I Don't Understand ...

Two things. The Government and education professionals keep telling us that State education is getting better and better. The exam pass rates get higher every year - more than 95% now for A-levels.

And good liberals tell us that it's far better to break up an unsatisfactory relationship than to stay together 'for the sake of the children'. After all, what about your needs ? Anyway, it's better to split than for the children to see you quarrelling all the time. 'If the mum/dad/whoever is happy, the children will be happy.'

So this Guardian report is very strange.

"Secondary school teachers are spending so much of their working day dealing with worsening pupil behaviour that they are battling to "be allowed to teach", according to a damning report out today."

"Teachers have become social workers as a result of the breakdown of the nuclear family, which has left many parents unwilling or unable to support or help their children, it says."

How can the children be learning more and more, when the teachers are struggling to get any teaching done ? It just shows what fantastic teachers we've got, I suppose.

And how can the liberation of children from the stifling confines of the discredited nuclear family possibly lead to "parents themselves unable to cope with their children growing up in a new and challenging social context ?"

Theree must be something wrong with the survey.

UPDATE - Brian Micklethwaite links to this Telegraph report, which seems to imply that teachers would be able to cope with poor behaviour were it not for that dreadful curriculum and those dreadful SATs tests (in other words, the teaching bit).

Imagine: the US pulls out of everywhere

P J O'Rourke makes a rare appearance in the Scotsman, extolling the benefits of US withdrawal from world politics.

"America had everyone’s sympathy after the World Trade towers were attacked. We can get that sympathy back if we limit our foreign-policy objectives to whining."

One thing to whine about will be the fate of Israel. Without American safeguards, that nation is certain to be militarily attacked. To judge by previous Israeli wars, in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 and 1982, the result will be serious headaches for Israelis as the Knesset furiously debates the status of Jewish settlements outside Damascus and on the west bank of the Euphrates.

Elsewhere, however, Islamic fundamentalists will likely triumph. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Our own country was founded by people who, today, would be considered religious extremists.

The threat of nuclear proliferation will abate as dangerous stockpiles of atomic weapons are quickly used up. The loss of life will be regrettable. But this will be counterbalanced by the welcome disappearance of long-standing international flashpoints when the India-Pakistan border is vaporised, Tehran disappears in a mushroom cloud, and whatever is left of the Korean Peninsula becomes reunited.

Read the whole thing.

The Scotsmans leader takes up the perennial theme of immigration, and why the stupid Brits (aka English) just don't seem able to appreciate the benefits.

It's always entertaining to hear a Scot (population density 64 per km2, half the European average, monocultural and monoracial, very few immigrants since the Normans) wonder why the English (population density 377/km2, 3 times the European average, multicultural, multiracial) are so bothered by immigration. Is it the tabloids ?

"The answer to these synthetic worries probably lies in the extraordinary pace of social and economic change (especially in London) and the psychological impact this has. At a time when middle-class pensions have been eroded, when jobs are no longer for life, when even the children of professional families experiment with recreational drugs, it is easy to become stressed and uncertain about the future. Anything or anyone who seems - no matter how ignorant or erroneous the impression - to be adding to the hectic uncertainties of life, gets the blame."

What I call the Weimar theory - that middle class collapse paves the way for bad things. But for the full effect you need to have lost a war as well. We happen to be fighting one now. So remember - a vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for fascism.

"If Scotland can attract skilled and enthusiastic immigrants - as it has done many times in the past - their example in building a modern, successful society will calm many exaggerated fears."

Don't hold your breath.

Maybe I'm not great at Scottish history - John Prebble's 'The Lion In The North' and 'The Highland Clearances' are the only books I've read on the subject - but I just can't recall any of these great waves of immigrants - unless he means the English refugees of the last thirty years, running post offices, small hotels and mobile cafes all over the Highlands. Not to mention the hippies scattered from Findhorn to the Butt of Lewis.

UPDATE - Marcus at Harry's Place argues that Scotland is multiracial and multicultural - thanks to the 19th century Irish immigration which has left us Celtic, Hibs, and their tricolor-flying supporters as well as the contrasts between the Catholic and Protestant Hebridean islands. It's true that this contrasts with England where Irish Catholics have almost completely integrated (you could just about make a case for Everton and Man. U. as a pale Celtic and Hibs of the North West).

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

And Some People Deny the Existence Of God ...

"Modern art classics including Tracey Emin's tent and Hell, by Jake and Dinos Chapman, may have perished in the blaze."

PS - Robingate latest - Alan Coren sells his Wyevale shares.

Those Victorian Values ...

They just won't go away. What was probably the most successful and progressive society in British history speaks to us yet.

Tristram Hunt lectures on modern British history at Queen Mary College. Or he researches Victorian civic thought at King's Cambridge. Maybe he does both. Either way he's a fan of the Victorian age, and tells us why in the Guardian.

"After almost a century of disparagement, we are currently witnessing a remarkable reappropriation of the Victorian age by modern progressives. Instead of Charles Dickens's world of Bumble and Gradgrind, mill owners and moralists, acquisitive individualism and laissez-faire economics, today's socialists are suggesting we should look far more favourably on the vibrant civil society, confident public domain and professional service ethic of the 19th century."

In a word - cobblers. The only socialists who are looking favourably are probably, much as I love them, yesterday's socialists - people like Frank Field or Norman Dennis and Professor E.H. Halsey, the authors of 'English Ethical Socialism'. Hunt's sole evidence seems to be David Marquand's recent work 'Decline Of The Public', which praises the public service ethic of those who created "a distinct, self-conscious and vigorous public domain", blamelessly free from the corruption of 18th-century patronage and unsullied by modern, consumer capitalism.

For 95% of what passes for the UK Left the Victorians still summon up Neil Kinnock's vision of "a place where a few got rich and most got hell. The Victorian values that ruled were cruelty, misery, drudgery, squalor and ignorance."

Even for an aged man like myself, educated in the 1960s, it came as a surprise to discover that a collectively funded welfare system existed before 1945. Admiration was joined to surprise when I realised that the system was created and administered by working men and women in complete independence from the state. The Friendly Societies, Voluntary Health Associations and mutual hospitals had 750,000 members in 1803 and more than eight million members by the 1930s.

I quote from a biography from my home town of Bromsgrove, describing a Nursing Association created by local women. "All members were entitled to the free services of the nurse, with non-members paying 2/6 for the first visit and 1/- thereafter ... (the nurse) was paying about 300 visits per month" (Pat Warner, 'A Lock-Keepers Daughter', 1986). The Tardebigge District Nursing Association was disbanded in 1946. It was one of two associations serving the small rural communities of Hewell and Tardebigge.

You can read about such societies in two Civitas publications - "Before Beveridge - Welfare Before The Welfare State" (ed. David Gladstone) and David Green's "Reinventing Civil Society - The Rediscovery Of Welfare Without Politics".

But these societies were not founded purely for their material benefits. They were also schools of morality and self-improvement. David Green quotes from the rules of the Ancient Order Of Foresters.

"In your domestic relationships we look to find you, if a husband, affectionate and trustful, if a father, regardful of the moral and material well-being of your children and dependents, as a son, dutiful and exemplary, and as a friend, steadfast and true."

Yes, Victorian Values. They covered their piano legs ! Queen Victoria couldn't accept the existence of lesbianism ! Prudery, Mrs Grundy, sexual repression - all coexisting with industrial-scale prostitution, alcholism and adultery.

How different, how much less repressed, less hypocritical, how much better we are now. We destroyed the old morality. Everybody's happy nowadays.

"Modern porn is becoming increasingly savage", writes the Guardian's Katharine Viner. "Still you have to wonder how it got to this point in (American culture's) cultural trajectory, where the blunt authenticity of real vagrants, really beating each other up passes for entertainment" sighs Zoe Williams. Susan Sontag bemoans "an increasingly out of control culture of violence, in which sex, entertainment and physical brutality are intertwined". I didn't know she watched Casualty.

For Nick Cohen, "the Methodist conscience of Britain has been replaced by greed, insobriety and the worship of wealth".

And the great Yazza says "Britain is infamous for hooliganism, drunkenness and a lack of respect for people and places." But Yasmin, surely the decline of deference is one of the greatest achievements of the cultural revolution ?

Something seems to have gone wrong with the hippie dream. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" doesn't seem to have produced the perfect society.

Yazza again, on British TV. "The dross overwhelms, the detritus is everywhere". Sounds like my study. "The left must also take some of the blame. We should have been more concerned about what was being destroyed in the name of freedom".

And Aaronovitch is asking questions.

"But who - an intelligent conservative might ask - championed sexual freedom if it wasn't us on the liberal left? Who made films full of shocking violence and endless sex? Who wrote the 80s and 90s books on how to bring up your kid? If there has been a decline of the sort that Sontag laments, do the liberal "we" not share any responsibility? Didn't the conservatives warn us that all this would happen?"

Well, yes, actually, they did. Especially one lady who didn't like what was happening to TV. Ray Honeyford's virtues only became apparent to liberals after the Bradford riots. Yasmin Alibhai Brown's Indie article is the first step in the rehabilitation of Mary Whitehouse. Whoever next - Enoch ?

And the word 'smut' is used without irony.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Build Nuclear Plants As Fast As You Can, Says Mr Gaia

James Lovelock commits heresy. It's as if the Pope became a Wiccan.

"Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen. If we fail to concentrate our minds on the real danger, which is global warming, we may die even sooner, as did more than 20,000 unfortunates from overheating in Europe last summer.

I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.

Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear - the one safe, available, energy source - now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."

My bet is that the "Green" movement will ignore him completely. After all, we're talking about religion, not science.

If he's right that London could disappear underwater, maybe climate change isn't so bad after all. And if the Gulf Stream disappeared as ocean currents changed, Cotswold skiing would be fabulous. London is on the latitude of Winnipeg. Scotland could see polar bears.

Admittedly a four-month winter would affect agriculture and we might have difficulty feeding sixty million people in a tiny semi-Arctic country - but you can't make an omelette etc.

Only A Host Of Phantom Bloggers ...

First Jackie packed up, then Paul Richards. Peter Cuthbertson is exammed up, Socialism In An Age Of Waiting defunct, British Spin is earning some money, even Tim Blair announced a month off (he lasted a day or two). Now the great Briffa is taking a break.

My sidebars point like fingerposts on a lonely moor.

"I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some lightless hall deserted"

Fortunately Mick Hartley is doing some good stuff, linking to items like La Contrariana's latest outburst and Richard Webster's take on Abu Ghraib. Having discovered Webster about six months ago and devoured a mort of his writing, I've failed to keep up with his new stuff. Thanks to Mick for reminding us.

Of course Mr Hartley is correct when he writes

"No doubt we'll be seeing more and more of these pictures, their publication being greeted with smug satisfaction at the powers of a free press to expose the evils of Western power. We will not, however, see too many re-runs of, say, Nick Berg's decapitation, or other gruesome reminders of anti-Western brutality. Too upsetting for the relatives... It's this pursuit of a shamelessly partisan approach wrapped up in high moral language which I find so unpleasant."

Such images (as used, incredibly, in the Liberal Democrats' local election literature) are likely to create rage and a desire for revenge among Muslims, but this is not a consequence which concerns the Guardian's Ian Mayes. Images of the David Berg murder are likely to create similar feelings among Americans and Westerners - which is exactly why we won't see them.

Anger and revenge are for 'them', not for 'us'.

And big shout for Dumb Jon, who keeps hitting the nail on the head, though I get my ROPs (Religion Of Peace) mixed with my L3s (Liberal Left what ?) and my TINOs (pass). How about this, on Blunketts fantastical plans to evacuate London in the event of a dirty bomb.

"THE Army and police will commandeer coaches and trains to move hundreds of thousands of Londoners out of the city in the event of a massive terrorist attack".

Would that be the Army that's been slashed to the bone ? Never mind the problem with soldiers deserting to protect their own families (and no doubt taking their weapons with them), what of the Police ? Here's people who almost all will have family in the affected areas - are they just going to stay at their posts and let their kids die ?

And about those coaches ? What about the disabled ? Will people just pile on the coaches and leave their possessions behind ? Never mind looters ..

Tell it like it is !

Robingate - The Crisis Deepens

In another journalistic coup, the BBC Today programme revealed that permission to kill the robins had been granted by DEFRA. In an interview, Agriculture Minister Ben Bradshaw stated that similar permissions granted last year resulted in the deaths of six robins, a blackbird, a blue tit and a pied wagtail.

Local Thornbury Liberal Democrat MP Steve Webb will be asking questions in the Commons today.

Story is covered by BBC News, Telegraph and the Scotsman.