Thursday, February 19, 2004

Damn, Damn, Damn ...

I would have loved to have heard Sean Gabb vs Yasmin Alibhai Brown on the BBC World Service. Report here. Once again the BBC shows its commitment to free debate.

(Sean has argued for the abolition of the CRE and all race relations legislation) ..

"When Yasmin Alibhai-Brown objected that this would remove all controls on racial attacks and on discrimination, Dr Gabb replied:

"Yasmin, are you saying that the white majority in this country is so seething with hatred and discontent that it is only restrained by law from rising up and tearing all the ethnic minorities to pieces?"

Her answer was yes, though she seemed to think better of this answer immediately after. But she did not take the invitation to deny that the white population was only kept in line by criminal laws to restrain them from attacking ethnic minorities. When Dr Gabb asked if she seriously believed he wanted to murder her, his microphone was turned off and he was "released" from his engagement with 20 minutes of discussion still to run."
Howard Speaks In Burnley ....

And Harry's not blogged on it. Is he late getting home from work ?

The suspense is awful ....

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

R.I.P. John Daly

John Daly, whose Still Waiting For Greenhouse is the best resource around on climate change, has died suddenly. He'll be greatly missed. Each time a new warming story appeared in the UK media, his site would a few days later provide a careful analysis with links to the research. He leaves behind a site with so much data and so many links that it'll still be a valuable resource for years to come.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A Modern Martyr

Feargal Keane's R4 programme Taking A Stand this morning interviewed Helen McKendry, daughter of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 who was abducted and killed by the IRA in 1972 for the crime of cradling in her arms a dying British soldier, shot in the Divis flats where she lived.

Even at the time PIRA realised that orphaning ten children wasn't good PR. They denied that she had been abducted or killed. The current republican story is that she was killed because she was an informer.

The head of Belfast IRA at the time was one Gerry Adams.

Helen McKendry has been campaigning since she grew up for justice for her mother, despite intimidation of her and her children. Grim but compelling listening. When there's a sound link (the BBC page isn't updated yet) I'll add it. It's here.

UPDATE - Mick Fealty at Slugger O'Toole has a sombre link to last year's funeral.

Iranian Election Latest

When people talk about the 'democratic deficit' or 'stifling dissent' here or in the US, I wish they'd think a bit more about Zimbabwe or Iran before opening their mouths. I can just imagine what the Guardian would say if the Archbishop of Canterbury disqualified 2,400 Parliamentary candidates for not following his brand of Christianity.

Now 100 Iranian MPs have criticised Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for doing just that. Voting is on Friday. If any candidates are left.
Tonight's News

A quick roundup ... George Monbiot leaves the Respect Coalition, already reeling from the 'food-for-oil' revelations.

The DFES rearranges the deckchairs on 'SS Educational Titanic' yet again. I'm convinced there's a strategy here. When league tables revealed the giant gulf betwen State and private education, they brought forward the 'value-added' measure. Surprise - the private schools were best at that, too. Now we have potentially the six-term school year and the recasting of exams to look forward to. Anything but admit that the abolition of the grammar schools was a mistake. And if we shake it about enough no-one will be able to compare the present and the past ...

And Blair gets tough on immigration Episode 94. Does anyone believe anything will come of it ? The Government's immigration and crime policies have been marked by unending 'get-tough' policy announcements. Most are unworkable and those that aren't are overturned by the courts. At taxpayer expense of course. I'll be very surprised if anyone's deported from Holland, either.

And don't you just love that Guardian popup (currently a nice environmentally sound, globaliseresistance-y Toyota advert) that takes forever to load ?

Slash And Burn

The Fabians held their annual conference a week or two back, on the State and human happiness. Paul Richards blogged thereon. Now Paul is a decent democrat, whose political outlook is singularly free of the anger and bitterness which suffuses so many blogs (mine for example), so I feel a trifle ungentlemanly in using his belief that a reduction in the State's share of national income from 42% to 40% would constitute 'slash and burn' as the springboard for this post. I doubt he'll lose sleep.

We await a report on the Fabian website, so I can't be sure if Polly Toynbee's thesis that "only the state can buy the things that make people happiest" was carried unanimously, but Paul's musings don't make me optimistic.

"I was on a housing estate outside Norwich on Friday, visiting the New Deal for Communities and chatting to residents. They have £35 million to spend, a new community centre, neighbourhood wardens, new healthy eating initiatives, and extra money for local schools. The Tories would remove all of it at a stroke."

Now I know nothing about Thorpe Hamlet or Mile Cross, and what follows is painted with my broadest caricature brush, but let's assume the New Deal and Surestart are being implemented as they are in my neck of the woods, i.e. it's the 'bad' estates that are getting the money. Where's it going to end up ?

This £35 million isn't being bunged in cash to the residents - it'll end up in the pockets of middle class social worker types. The new community centre will replace the old one which has been vandalised beyond repair. The only working class people who will benefit will be the builders who tear down the thirty-year old maisonettes (themselves a replacement for Victorian terraces), and replace them with shiny new modern terraces, into which the people who rendered the maisonettes only semi-habitable will be moved along with their victims. If they're very lucky, the elderly will be moved into sheltered housing, completely contrary to a strategy of social diversity but ensuring they can step outside more often. There seems no reason why this cycle of rebuild and rehouse shouldn't go on indefinitely.

New healthy eating initiatives ? For God's sake, these people know where Lidl is ! Fruit and veg are dirt cheap there. It's not poverty of purse which keeps the trolleys full of lager and empty of oranges.

Sure Start ? In one Sure Start area near me, mums have just had a nice day off. Someone else took care of the kids while they had an Indian head massage, facial, aromatherapy and were given tips from a beautician. I'm not sure how this helps people in the long term to make more of their lives, but it keeps a few more quasi-hippies employed. This week, the drumming workshop for seven to eleven year olds with 'behavioural problems' - or 'little sods' as they were known in more judgemental days.

Extra money for local schools ? New interactive whiteboards and more laptops ! Pity about the kids' reading skills, but you can't have everything. Oh, and an extra classroom assistant to give one to one attention and stop young Colum, who's already been excluded from two infant schools, disrupting the education of his classmates for yet another term. That will, at least in the short term, bring a benefit. I'm not so sure about the message it sends out to potential Colums and to their parents.

The neighbourhood wardens are the one idea that seems a good one. But will it work in practice ? Will the bad boys take any notice of Mr NW unless he's as bad as they are ? Perhaps, just as certain northern councils hired criminals to provide security on major building projects, they could find the hardest thug on the estate and make him a warden. "Since all Mile Cross cannot govern Dave Yob, let Dave Yob govern all Mile Cross", as was once said of Kildare.

All this helps soak up that £35 million of our taxes. Some good will come of it, of course. Some young men may have their lives transformed by modern dance classes, as Chris Smith rhapsodised (don't even think about it ... ), some young heroin user may pull herself together and get a state-funded job counselling other heroin users. You can read these success stories in the Guardian. But is this a good return on what Labour insist on calling 'investment' ? I call an investment something on which you hope to get a return. Or does the return in fact consist of more welfare-dependent people, needing the services of more social workers ?

The righteous Richard certainly thinks so.