Friday, October 30, 2009
Seeing Is Believing
Earlier this week Prof Nutt used a lecture at King's College, London, to attack what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from illegal drugs.
The professor said smoking cannabis created only a "relatively small risk" of psychotic illness, and claimed those who advocated moving ecstasy into Class B had "won the intellectual argument".
Public concern over the links between high-strength cannabis, known as skunk, and mental illness led the government to reclassify cannabis to Class C last year.
In the past, Prof Nutt has also claimed that taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.
Now it's perfectly true that if alcohol had just been synthesised in the lab for the first time, and tobacco and smoking had just been brought across the sea from some exotic empire (note that King James I (VI of Scotland), while disapproving, didn't criminalise tobacco use), it's likely they would be made illegal. On a strict damage-from-use basis, the Prof stands on unassailable high ground.
But that isn't where we find ourselves. Smoking has a 400-year history in these islands - the use and abuse of alcohol goes back to our prehistory. Dope as a mainstream drug goes back thirty or forty years (yes, I know about Queen Victoria, laudanum and all that), ecstasy 20 or so. There's a cultural reason why riding a horse is socially acceptable round my way and dropping an E isn't - people have been doing the former for a lot longer.
(There's a useful little paper on alcohol and history by Prof Virginia Berridge here. And wasn't James I full of good logic and observation ? 'oftentimes in the inward parts of men fouling and infecting them with an unctuous and oily kind of soot as hath been found in some great tobacco-takers that after their death were opened').
The Old Boy (and Girl) Network
Tom Utley, son of the great T.E, on media recruitment 30 years back :
Not so for David Warren :
My surname was no hindrance to me, either, when I embarked on my father's trade as a journalist. If I remember rightly, there were 1,200 applicants in my year for just a dozen places on the Mirror Group Graduate Editorial Training Scheme.
But by dropping a name or two, I wormed my way on to the shortlist of about 30 of us, who were put up in a London hotel and subjected to three days of interviews, American- style personality tests and written exams.
At the end of this elaborate palaver, it turned out that no fewer than seven of the 12 successful candidates, including me, had close relations who worked in Fleet Street and were friendly with one or more of the Mirror journalists and executives who'd interviewed us. Indeed, it has often struck me since that they could have dispensed with the trouble and expense of all those hotel rooms and personality tests and simply asked us one question: 'Do I know your father?'
I was fully 16 before landing my first "serious" job, from which I now count the anniversary. This was as a copy boy, at the long-defunct Globe and Mail, in their long-since demolished art-deco offices on King Street, Toronto. (There is still a newspaper published under that name, but it appears unrelated to the one I used to work for.)
The job came via Clark Davey, later a publisher of the Ottawa Citizen. In 1969, he was managing editor of the Globe. I walked rather boldly into his office, to announce my willingness to do any job. And by sheer luck, I correctly answered his one skill-testing question, viz., "Are you on drugs?"
White Cities ?
Why is it that progressivism in smaller metros is so often associated with low numbers of African Americans? Can you have a progressive city properly so-called with only a disproportionate handful of African Americans in it? In addition, why has no one called these cities on it?I guess it's just Ben and Chloe in an American context.
As the college educated flock to these progressive El Dorados, many factors are cited as reasons: transit systems, density, bike lanes, walkable communities, robust art and cultural scenes. But another way to look at it is simply as White Flight writ large. Why move to the suburbs of your stodgy Midwest city to escape African Americans and get criticized for it when you can move to Portland and actually be praised as progressive, urban and hip? Many of the policies of Portland are not that dissimilar from those of upscale suburbs in their effects. Urban growth boundaries and other mechanisms raise land prices and render housing less affordable exactly the same as large lot zoning and building codes that mandate brick and other expensive materials do. They both contribute to reducing housing affordability for historically disadvantaged communities. Just like the most exclusive suburbs.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Education News - Burnley
The idea was to improve social cohesion - a noble aim even if kids pay the price in worse education. Can't make a rainbow omelette without breaking a few lives, and all that.
So they've built all these shiny new integrated schools, which we will doubtless be paying for for years - they're PFI-funded. What's going to happen to the old ones ?
The former Burnley College building has been targeted to get a 1,500-pupil Muslim boarding school for girls.
A leading charity has announced it wants to take over the vacated college in Ormerod Road and it hopes to attract girls from all over Europe.
If it goes ahead it will be one of the few Muslim girls’ boarding schools in the country.
Hmm. Were I a Burnley native whose kids have been moved I'm not sure I'd be totally chuffed by this (a/c/t the comments the school will be Barelvi, rather than the more fundamentalist Deobandi). And the new schools are costing approximately £250m. The old college has apparently been sold for less than £2m. Was the building put on open sale, I wonder ? Doubtless time will reveal all.
Gods Battle Successfully Against Stupidity
OK, the recession Labour produced has led to a recent rise in Army recruitment - presumably on the basis that you can learn a trade, and that while you may get shot or blown up at least you'll get paid in the interim. But the military compact is a long-term one - and to kick the volunteers, of all people, in the teeth seemed insane from both a short and a long-term perspective.
Short term - at any one time there are 500-odd TA personnel - part-time volunteers - in Iraq or Afghanistan. We need these people and we need them with decent morale. It's a blunder.
Long term - I keep hearing that we'll be expected to be in Afghanistan for decades, in the mighty struggle to get little Nooria to school and make Afghan democracy like the UKs, but with more all-women shortlists. IMHO it would be cheaper to wait a few years until UK democracy is more like Afghanistan's, but that's by the by. We should value highly those men and women who willingly give their own free time (and sometimes much more) to defend our country. In many families and many parts of the country there's a tradition of service. A tradition is much easier to break than to recreate.
I was pleased to see a few Labour MPs like Lindsay Hoyle put their heads above the parapet - and I'm pleased that the whole thing's now been reversed, and no cuts are to be made, although this episode will not be forgotten by TA members or families. But I still wonder what kind of system - and more, what kind of person - could have produced that idiotic decision in the beginning ?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Immigration - a smoking gun ?
So why is it that ministers have been so very bad at communicating this (benefits of immigration - LT. I must admit I thought they talked of nothing else)? I wonder because I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls. It marked a major shift from the policy of previous governments: from 1971 onwards, only foreigners joining relatives already in the UK had been permitted to settle here.
That speech was based largely on a report by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair's Cabinet Office think-tank. The PIU's reports were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy.
Drafts were handed out in summer 2000 only with extreme reluctance: there was a paranoia about it reaching the media. Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled "RDS Occasional Paper no. 67", "Migration: an economic and social analysis" focused heavily on the labour market case.
But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural. I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended - even if this wasn't its main purpose - to rub the Right's nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.
Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. For despite Roche's keenness to make her big speech and to be upfront, there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour's core white working-class vote. This shone through even in the published report: the "social outcomes" it talks about are solely those for immigrants. And this first-term immigration policy got no mention among the platitudes on the subject in Labour's 1997 manifesto, headed Faster, Firmer, Fairer.
The results were dramatic. In 1995, 55,000 foreigners were granted the right to settle in the UK. By 2005 that had risen to 179,000; last year, with immigration falling thanks to the recession, it was 148,000. In addition, hundreds of thousands of migrants have come from the new EU member states since 2004, most requiring neither visas nor permission to work or settle. The UK welcomed an estimated net 1.5 million immigrants in the decade to 2008.
Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom. But ministers wouldn't talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn't necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men's clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.
In part, too, it would have been just too metropolitan an argument to make in such places: London was the real model. Roche was unusual in that she was a London MP, herself of east European Jewish stock. But Labour ministers elsewhere tend studiously to avoid ever mentioning London. Meanwhile, the capital's capacity to absorb new immigrants depends in large part on its economic vitality and variety. There's not a lot of that in, say, south Yorkshire. And so ministers lost their nerve.
I hope it's not too late now, post-Question Time, for London to make the case for migration.
And here's his backtracking :
Somehow this has become distorted by excitable Right-wing newspaper columnists into being a "plot" to make Britain multicultural. There was no plot. I've worked closely with Ms Roche and Jack Straw and they are both decent, honourable people whom I respect (not something I'd say for many politicians). What's more, both were robust on immigration when they needed to be: Straw had driven through a tough Immigration and Asylum Act in 1999 and Roche had braved particularly cruel flak from the Left over asylum seekers.
Rather, my sense was that the nervousness came primarily from No 10. According to my notes of one meeting in mid-July 2000, held at the PIU's offices in Admiralty Arch, there was a debate about whether the report should be published by the PIU or by the Home Office: the PIU didn't think the Prime Minister wanted his "prints" on it. From Tony Blair, the man who took us to war in Iraq on a lie - and who later fired the faithful Roche on a whim, months before she lost her seat thanks to the war - I don't find that particularly surprising.
Perhaps the lesson of this row is just how hard it still is to have any sensible debate about immigration. The Right see plots everywhere and will hyperventilate at the drop of a chapati: to judge by some of the rubbish published in the past few days, it's frankly not hard to see why ministers were nervous. The Left, however, will immediately accuse anyone who raises immigration as an issue as "playing the race card" - as the Government has on several occasions over the past decade.
Both sides need to grow up.
A creditable effort, but that moggy still won't quite get back in the bag. You can call it a 'plot' or not, but I don't think the label matters. It's not a smoking gun as in proof of a conspiracy - cos there ain't one. You don't need a conspiracy when people think alike. But ...
a) this isn't exactly a new phenomenon. I wish I could find the Guardian piece from four or five years back - I think in the days when Michael Howard led the Tories and I think written by Peter Preston, which celebrated an area of multicultural London (can't remember where - South-East?) as a triumph over the Right - in the sense of 'you've lost, it's too late - that old culture - and those old people - has gone for ever, you can't ever bring it - or them - back'.
And of course he's quite right - as is the anonymous PIU author who spoke of rendering the arguments out of date. How can even a moderate argue that successful mass immigration is possible with assimilation into a self-confident host culture (as in the USA up to the mid-70s) when there's nothing left to assimilate to. What host culture is left in East London or Woolwich?
b) it's not a conspiracy as in a cunning plan put together by the Bilderberg Group, the Freemasons or the Zionists. It's what happens when a culture collapses and is replaced by another culture - the triumph of the sixties cultural revolutionaries, many of whose younger adherents wouldn't even recognise themselves as such. Hasn't Britain always been like this ?
I happen to think that 'our' current culture is (along with 'our' current fertility) unsustainable in every sense, and sooner or later will be shown by events (probably not very nice ones) to be so.
At which point our rulers (and their children) will discover that the USA (or perhaps New Zealand) isn't the greatest evil on the planet after all, and get on the planes out.
A wee postcript. I get peeved with the occasional 'blood on the streets' stuff some rightie commenters post. Imagine my surprise to see leftie Dave Osler post this apocalyptic vision, way beyond Enoch Powell's terse classical allusion, on Liberal Conspiracy. Dave, if it's so good, why's it so bad ?
UPDATE - the Magna Mater Melanie applies the traditional shoeing and tells it like it is :
Let me spell this out again very slowly.
The neo-Nazi British National Party now has two MEPs, one million votes and a claim to a place in the legitimate political life of Britain principally because a very significant proportion of the electorate believe that Britain’s culture and identity are being steadily transformed by mass immigration...
Don't worry, the Tories'll fix it !
There could scarcely be a more profound abuse of the democratic process than to set out to destroy a nation’s demographic and cultural identity through a conscious deception of the people of that nation. There could hardly be a more worthy issue for the Conservative party to leap upon. Yet the Tories’ reaction so far has been muted...You amaze me. Despite having many decent people, the Cameronians are in charge. They're not called Blue Labour for nowt. Don't expect the BNP to vanish the way the National Front did after 1979.
Melanie also notes the backtracking in Trying To Stuff The Cat Back Into The Bag.