ashwednesday: (Ticktock)
But maybe this merits recording.

Just some light material for your evening reading...!

Today I have been quite preoccupied with the vote that was happening today, which ultimately passed, to approve plans to restrict increases in benefits to 1% per year. Why's that such a big deal? Because benefits have historically risen in line with inflation. While I don't think any of my readers are the type of people who begrudge the unemployed Jobseekers' Allowance, it's worth noting that, despite the way the government and media present it, most people in receipt of benefits are in fact employed in some capacity. Cuts affect those who receive:
  • Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Income Support
  • Elements of housing benefit
  • Maternity allowance
  • Sick Pay, Maternity Pay, Paternity Pay, Adoption Pay
  • Couple and lone parent elements of working tax credits and the child element of the child tax credit
On average,  most households who receive benefits will be £3/week worse off. That's the price of a large Starbucks coffee, so what's the big deal? Well, for some people, their living expenses have such a narrow margin for error that any kind of cuts put them at risk. The real problem, though, is the way the government has framed this debate. For example, this poster:

The Conservatives have framed the rhetoric of this debate around a discourse of deserving vs undeserving poor. They spend a lot of energy talking about "scroungers". It has been consistently demonstrated by studies that while of course there is benefit fraud, far more money - millions and  millions more! - is wasted every year in administrative errors with regards to benefit than is lost in benefit fraud. The government also helpfully ignores the fact that the recession is what has put a large proportion of people on benefits, and that, as we now risk going into a triple dip recession, austerity measures can be quite confidently said to not work as a way of moving out of financial crisis. Furthermore, as this excellent article points out, the government assists big business by supplementing the low wages of the workers at companies like Starbucks by paying them housing benefit and working tax credits,  because the national minimum wage is not equal to what is termed a living wage. I'll say it again: most benefits go to the employed

This, of course, isn't even touching on the issue of people who cannot work due to ill health, disabilities etc. I believe that here in the UK the economically disadvantaged are still in a better position than they are in the US - free healthcare, for instance, although the Tories are doing their best to carve that up - but I have been troubled by the rise of right-wing rhetoric that echoes the kind of ultra-conservative soundbites we're used to hearing from across the pond. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, even if you don't have boots, all that. 

I've been tweeting quite a bit about this today. People have also been tweeting heavily over the last couple of days under the hashtag#TransDocFail, which records the experience of trans people across the world with the medical establishment. I haven't contributed to this discussion apart from by retweeting a couple of things, because this particular hashtag seems to me to be a place where trans people's voices are meant to be heard, and chiming in to me seems to be trying to muscle in on stories of very personal and distressing experiences of prejudice and neglect. They don't need me to filter them. But in reflecting on events today, I have seen some parallels. Here's an example.

Westminster Council proposed that obese and otherwise 'unhealthy' people could have their benefits docked if they failed to carry out GP-prescribed exercise. Their rationale behind this is that Britain's obesity epidemic is raising the rate of diabetes II, heart disease and various other conditions that cost the NHS a great deal of money. I don't dispute this, and I think that many people (myself included!) would be much healthier if they did regular exercise. However, this blackmailing of economically vulnerable people is pretty disgusting - it says "you deserve help only if you change your body in ways these authority figures approve of." This, of course, is the regular experience of trans people when seeking medical help. It assumes that marginalised people can't possibly have any idea of what is best for them and their bodies. It also neglects the fact that, in the case of overweight people on benefits, reasons for obesity don't usually come from laziness - they are closely tied to poverty, and to cultures of poverty involving lack of education (that means people have little understanding of nutrition, or aboutemotionally healthy eating), long working hours for low wages (that may make exercising difficult or impossible), lack of access to cheap healthy food (for instance: being able to drive to a supermarket if you live on an inner city estate can be pretty impossible; your local small Iceland meanwhile will stock you up on cheap frozen food for very little). But the government refuses to see these well documented causes, preferring a simple, splashy tagline about tackling scroungers. Trans people, meanwhile, are asked to answer invasive questions about their sexual habits, are made objects of unprofessional curiosity for medical students, and are denied treatment if they don't appear to be cooperative. The Tories want fat poor people (rich fat people can do what they want!) to knuckle down and obey: they can't give the poor jobs, no  matter how many statistics they massage, but they can damn well still have power over the power by threatening them with destitution if they don't play the part of the "deserving". Doctors, meanwhile, often deny vital care to trans people if they don't follow doctors' notions of what it means to be male or female (usually showing no understanding that there is any scope for gender identity beyond an old fashioned, caricatured notion of normative masculinity and femininity). 

In both instances, I think we can see that the problem is paternalism. I've rarely been more glad that this year I have a book coming out on fatherhood; it might be on medieval men, but anything I can do to contribute to anti-patriarchal discourse is a good thing.

ashwednesday: (London)

I feel quite heartsick about what's going on in London. And I'm also getting annoyed by what seems to be the two major ways I'm seeing the riots perceived. The first is that this is mindless violence and theft by workshy scum. The second is that this is a righteous response to a corrupt state, the police are the enemy, and that looting and vandalism are anarchist actions against capitalism.

It's really too early for proper analysis of the situation - that will come in the aftermath. For now I have these observations.

These riots come following a year of austerity measures that have not managed to stem the tide of unemployment and economic depression, a time that has seen an extraordinary number of protests and public fury over the government's cutting of public services while pandering to big business. The UK is not the most economically deprived developed nation, but it is the developed nation with the least social mobility. The boroughs of London where violence has broken out are deprived, and there is a history of distrust between the police and local communities, racial tension, and educational underachievement. People feel helpless, trapped by their socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, and cuts to public funding - including outreach programmes and community policing - will only make such feelings stronger. People are anxious about their futures as unemployment stays high, the economic situation remains gloomy and benefits are cut. That in these circumstances it's easy for peaceful protest to tip over into violence is unsurprising, and those who condemn these people wholesale as mindless thugs are not only narrowminded, they're also missing an important wake up call about what it is these communities are so painfully lacking.

On the other hand, I don't have any time at all for the kind of armchair anarchist who, in a middle class sort of way, pronounces on how burning down or looting stores owned by major corporations is a strike against capitalism. Who do you think suffers when a local branch of a global chain is broken down? Not the corporation itself; one store out of hundreds or thousands is a loss that can be swallowed. It's local communities, who lose jobs when stores are shut down, who see property prices fall as insurance costs rise and store fronts go vacant, who see derelict buildings become foci of vandalism and petty crime. There were people in Tottenham - working class, ordinary people of all races - who were heartbroken because of what's happened to their area, an area they have pride in, an area they've seen struggle to get out of the mire of economic desperation over the past couple of decades. If you cheer on people who steal and destroy because you think they're sticking it to The Man, you probably aren't having to clean up broken glass or face the fact you don't have a shop to go work in tomorrow morning, or you don't know what it would be like to face that. Which means you're probably pretty privileged, and should maybe start thinking about whether you might be The Man, too.
ashwednesday: (spilled milk)
I haven't written anything about the Pope's visit to the UK because mostly the press coverage and people's reactions have been giving me a headache. But here is a quick tuppence worth after reading the BBC's Have Your Say, which posed the question "what does the Pope's visit mean to you?" Most people replied "nothing". Of course, there was also a lot of invective about Catholicism in general, but the thing that struck me was just lots of people saying: "I don't care about this, why is it happening?"

So, let me just try to say why for me, as a British Catholic, it is important that this visit is happening, and why I feel sad I'm not on British soil today.

(Just to get this out of the way: I've blogged on this before, but to reiterate as it's bound to come up. I am, in the strongest possible terms, horrified by the paedophilia scandal, extremely disappointed in the Church's response to it, and understand completely why for a lot of people this casts a pall over the Church generally. I do think it's worth noting that the way the media has reported on this is probably not that helpful to future victims of child abuse, because it presents priests who sexually abuse children as "other" - men made abnormal by their religious vows and beliefs, and a lot of correlation has been drawn between vows of celibacy and sexual abuse. Actually, the men most likely to sexually abuse children are fathers and stepfathers, many of whom will be in a sexual relationship with adult women. This isn't to diminish the significance of what has happened, but it's time we started thinking about what social structures contribute to allowing sexual abuses to take place, rather than smugly acting as if they only happen within institutions we don't really like anyway.)

Right. As the BBC website says:

"The trip is the first to the UK by a Pontiff since John Paul II in 1982. It is also the first to be designated a state visit because the Pope has been invited by the Queen rather than the church."

This is about history. For many modern British people, the immediate response to what I'm about to say is "so what? All this stuff you're talking about happened years - even centuries - ago." But it's funny how long things are ingrained into the national psyche. I wonder how many people who have in the last weeks casually used the words "papist" and "popery" on Twitter, message boards and so on understand what historic prejudices they are drawing on. Let me be clear: I respect your right to dislike the Catholic Church. Objecting to hate language is NOT attempting to silence you. Here is a selection of tweets that use the word "papist" just within the last few hours on Twitter.

I still can't believe that it's 2010, and my city is preparing to welcome the world's premier Papist to it's environs.

pope + rapist = papist

pope + rapist = papist. The beauty of these simple confluences (and) elisions makes my life in the arse lane endurable.

I'm anti-papist I must admit. Mind you, I'm against most organised religions that have been forced by politics upon the masses.

Predictive text win: just tried to type Papist but my phone suggested rapist. Bloody clever phone this.

You can read just a little bit here about the historic use of the word "papist".

It was not until 1829 that civil rights for Catholics in Britain were (mostly) restored. The Catholic Relief Act, for instance, allowed Catholics to take office. There was vehement opposition to the Act both on a national scale and also in government, a lot of which was the result of anti-Irish prejudice. The resulting Act was a compromise, as it effectively disenfranchised the Irish peasantry (in Ireland prior to the Act, any man owning property worth 40 shillings or more had the vote; the qualification was raised to £10).

In 1850, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in England was officially restored, meaning, essentially, that Catholics once again had dioceses - and bishops. Prior to this, for two centuries English Catholics were overseen by Vicars Apostolic. The first Vicar Apostolic landed in secret in England in 1623. I'm just going to quote this bit from Wikipedia since it says it neatly enough: "The years from 1688 to the early nineteenth century were in some respects the nadir for Catholicism in England. Deprived of their dioceses, four Apostolic Vicariates were set up throughout England until the re-establishment of the diocesan episcopacy in 1850. Although the persecution was not violent as in the past, Catholic numbers, influence and visibility in English society reached their lowest ebb. Their civil rights were severely curtailed: their right to own property or inherit land was greatly limited, they were burdened with special taxes, they could not send their children abroad for Catholic education, they could not vote, and priests were liable to imprisonment." So the changes in the 19th century were welcomed enthusiastically by the Catholic population, and there was a significant Catholic revival from the late nineteeth century onward.

Still, the spectre of anticatholicism in Britain looms large. Those of us with Irish blood (which is quite a lot of British Catholics) will be particularly aware of this. There's not really room here (and I don't have time!) to really discuss sectarian violence in Ireland and how the popular trend at the moment to say "it's about politics, not faith" is a way of obscuring the complex web of prejudices (on all sides!) in Northern Ireland. But for those of you who think that anticatholicism is a relic of the past, please do consider 1972's Bloody Sunday, and wonder why it is that it took nearly 40 years for the British government to acknowledge that it murdered its citizens for the crime of being Irish Catholic men who wanted the same civil rights as their Protestant neighbours. They were shot as they crawled to safety. It could easily have been my uncles, my cousins.

I know that the Irish situation is more complex than "just" religion. I know. But I also know that for me, and for many other British Catholics, with history hard at our back, to have an official state visit by the leader of our Church - whatever one thinks of him, and trust me, many British Catholics are angry with him, but our many and varied discussions on the state of the Church today do not get covered by the mainstream media - after centuries of repression of our faith right into the late 20th century, it's a big deal. It's a really big deal. I hope that you can understand that.
ashwednesday: (Ticktock)
Tonight I watched the BBC documentary This World: Stolen Brides, written and presented by Lucy Ash, a respected reporter with a background in covering Russian politics, warzones and women's issues. This programme was on the topic of forced marriages in Chechnya, a region with a complex and violence-ridden history, now struggling to recover after the Second Chechen War. Bride kidnapping has a long tradition in Chechnya, but it has seen a marked revival in recent years, with some estimating that up to 1 in 5 marriages begins with the kidnapping of the bride. Typically a young man and his friends snatch a woman off the street. They will then contact her family to negotiate for her hand. The marriage is usually agreed to, both to preserve the woman's honour and to prevent the need for a blood feud in a country where family honour is prized and where every man seems to have access to a gun. The narrative of the episode moved between the story of Zulikhan, a young woman snatched off the street and married a week later to a man she had met on only three occasions, and interviews with mullahs, human rights activists and ordinary Chechens.

I finished the programme feeling profoundly unsettled by what I had seen. There was a great deal to unpack from the footage, far more than could actually be analysed in the programme (though Lucy Ash gave a useful introduction to isues, she reported rather than analysed - which I think was probably more helpful in this context; it let the footage speak for itself). I sat in the bath, wondering why exactly it had upset me so profoundly. I see terrible things on the news every day, after all. Part of it, of course, was that there was a personal story there. Journalists know that a personal story is worth a hundred nameless casualties, and it would have been a stony-hearted person who wasn't moved by Zulikhan, a university student who suddenly had her career prospects and even her location taken from her as she was displaced through marriage to a near-stranger who moved them to remote Kazakhstan. Clearly bright and capable, Zulikhan had the air of a woman making the best of a bad situation; she liked her new mother-in-law (who enrolled her in a local university), and she described her marriage as "fate", but she had little to say about Bogdan, her new husband. Bogdan, meanwhile, was dismissive when asked if he thought his wife was upset about being snatched. Women, he said, just cried because they didn't want to leave home, but really they wanted to be married.

It would be easy to have gone away from the programme - with its men shooting guns in the air from the wedding cortege, mullahs exorcising women of demons that made them unhappy in their marriages, and grim statistics on women forced into prostitution and human rights activists murdered - thinking that Chechnya is an oppressive nation dominated by cruel, religious-fanatic men who are systematically crushing women's rights. Which in many ways is actually a fair assessment, but it's also a glib one.

One of the issues I have as a researcher on masculinities is the way so many people invoke the word "patriarchy" without actually understanding what it means. And before you ask, no, I don't know what it means either. I may have written a thesis on fatherhood, but I think I've only begun to understand what patriarchy really is. What this programme brought into sharp relief for me was the complex ways in which patriarchal constructs can shape, promote, and oppress. The people of Chechnya are victims of grotesque and repeated abuses of privilege. In 1944 the entire Chechen population was deported by the Russians. Half a million people were exiled to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and allowed to return only in 1957. Unsurprisingly, the ensuing years have seen continued bloody struggles with Russia. An increasingly radicalised Chechen population has in recent years moved away from seeking a western-style democracy independent of Russia and moved toward the ideal of a powerful Islamic state fighting for Caucasian independence - at almost any cost. The war with Russia is supposedly over, but violence is endemic, the unemployment rate stands at a third of the population, and a Médecins Sans Frontières survey in 2007 found that an astonishing 77% of respondents showed evidence of psychological trauma as a result of the war.

It is perhaps not surprising that in a nation that has been systematically brutalised and humiliated by a more powerful enemy that its citizens should seek ways of self-empowerment. It's all very well if we at home, comfortable in our privileges of peacetime and education, think it would be better if people sought productive ways to empower themselves. For many Chechen men, growing up with the expectation that their lives may be cut short by violence, ambitions stymied by economic stagnation and political corruption, an act such as bride-stealing may seem to them an exertion of personal choice and of vigorous masculinity. Patriarchal constructs tell men that they are not really men if they are not demonstrating their masculinity, if they do not prove their manliness. And of course the constructs of patriarchy involve not only the domination of women by men, but the domination of men by more powerful men. This isn't, by the way, all about gender; patriarchy's a lot more complex than that, and maybe sometime I'll have time to get into that. But for now - Chechen men have lived for decades as the whipping boys of their own government and of the policies of an autocratic and powerful neighbour. Is it surprising that a radical and conservative version of Islam which allows men to marry more than one woman, that allows men to make women cover their heads, that encourages men to take back their nation's independence, that neatly gives the blame for their problems to Russia and to the population's moral laxity. In many societies, patriarchal constructs subtly instil the notion that the household is a microcosm of society, and so the man who controls his household is a man who can take his proper place in a social hierarchy.

I couldn't warm to Bogdan, who seemed to have little interest in his new wife, and who did seem like the kind of cold misogynist you might expect. But Lucy Ash spoke to his father on Bogdan's wedding day. The father was visibly relieved; most people, he said, got married at eighteen or nineteen, but then the war came... And now Bogdan was thirty. There was in what he said a sense of an anxiety that went beyond a typical parental desire for a child to settle down and start a family. There is a sense in Chechnya of there being very little time; lives are borrowed, not owned, and this attitude makes snatching a wife - a custom that seems better suited to a more ancient time, not to a society with glossy billboards and a busy TV industry - make more sense. "I didn't want to wait," said Bogdan, and whilst his dismissive attitude toward his wife's ambitions was repulsive, it was easier to understand his anxiety to be married when an old man started speaking at the wedding reception. He discussed how he and his family were deported, how he saw his siblings die - a tiny fraction of the horrifying one-third of all deportees who died during transport or shortly thereafter. He talked about how women knelt down in front of Russians so that the fighting would stop, and how they were mowed down. Everything that the Chechen people have has been scraped together, fought for, stolen, wrung out. They are simultaneously absolutely certain of their right to be Chechen and absolutely uncertain of anything else that governs their own lives. They are fiercely proud of their race and nation; they are afraid of their government, of the future, of the shadow of Moscow.

"It's the law of our grandfathers," one man said about bride-snatching. "We have to respect our Chechen traditions." "Tradition" is often a useful cloak for abuse, and you may rightly sniff at men using dubious "history" to justify the abuse of women's rights - but in a society with an uncertain future and a distressing and bloody recent past and present, the concept of "tradition" is something to cling fast to. Whether or not it actually does anyone any good.
ashwednesday: (London)
Five years.

I was in London when it all happened, although safely away from what was happening. It was a terrible day, quite surreal, and all the stranger for having happened only a day after London won the 2012 Olympics, a real source of pride for the city.

Something that struck me at the time was how well Londoners dealt with what happened. People talk about Blitz spirit so much it's become a cliche, but cliches become cliches for a reason. There were acts of heroism carried out with no fanfare and only a need to get things done. There were cups of tea handed out on the streets and there were bad jokes made within hours - hell, knowing Londoners, probably minutes - of the explosions. What the government has done since then, how it has used events like 7/7 to make incursions on our civil liberties, troubles me a great deal. But I still have a lot of faith in ordinary people because of what I saw and heard about that day. Here's something I wrote four years ago on the first anniversary. I might write it differently now, but I think overall I can leave my points to stand.

Each death is a tragedy - for the individual, for the people who loved them, for the countries that lost them and their potential, and for society as another blow against toleration and mutual respect and human feeling. But still, in these dark hours, we see always the best of human spirit as well as the worst; the capacity for people to help one another, to joke in the face of death, to stand in the clotted dark of an underground tunnel helping the wounded to safety. There are great acts of heroism, but more importantly than that there are the little acts of heroism, the small things that let us look at one another and say, for a little while at least, you are my brother and I am yours. I think that is what the events of July 7 last year gave me a sense of: people of every colour and religion, brought together by chance in the beating heart of the city, the underground, emerging from the darkness all alike for a time - soot stained and shell shocked - and then offering, through a bad joke or a visit to the pub or holding the hand of a stranger, a hard nosed London V-sign to the people who thought they could break them, and a collective cheer for the life that will and must go on.
ashwednesday: (Ticktock)
There is plenty you can read online about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. There are just a few notes I want to make here. My life has been thankfully free of the violence of Northern Ireland, but my mother and her family are from Belfast and the region around Belfast, and their daily lives were shaped and fundamentally affected by the Troubles. It was a difficult, chaotic, frightening time, and no one party or group of people can really be "blamed" entirely for what went on. The Troubles are used to talk about a short period of time, but really they started centuries ago and they continue, in a thankfully smaller and less damaging form, today. But Bloody Sunday was one of those situations where there is clearly a wrong side, and it was the British Army, and its reckless, revolting, unjustifiable resort to arms on that Sunday in 1972 had a profound effect on the course of the Troubles. Many Catholics had initially welcomed the presence of the Army in Northern Ireland, because they hoped it would be a neutral force that would help protect them. Bloody Sunday underlined the fact that Catholics were the enemy, not only of the Protestant Irish but also of the British generally, and that Catholics could not hope that what they were supposed to accept as their government would protect them or their interests.

Patrick Doherty was shot as he tried to crawl to safety.

Bernard McGuigan was shot as he went to help Doherty; he waved a white handkerchief to signify his peaceful intentions.

William McKinney was shot as he went to the aid of Gerald McKinney (no relation); he had left cover to help the other man. Both died.

It is no wonder that after this the Provisional IRA began to attract more and more radicalised and disaffected young people, nor that the divisions between Catholics in Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain deepened. They were on a civil rights march. They died for nothing, and that day of violence led to who knows how many more pointless, bloody deaths on all sides.

Now David Cameron, on behalf of the Government, has officially apologised. I hope that it can bring the families of the deceased some kind of peace, and mark another step toward reconciliation - a process that began in one way or another 12 years ago and continues today. It will take a long time for these wounds to heal, and they will always leave scars; but this is something. It is an important something.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)

The future of arts and humanities research in the UK?

Tonight I heard that King's College London is making substantial cuts, including eliminating the palaeography programme. This despite King's having, according to their own prospectus, "the only established Chair of Palaeography in the English-speaking world." For those of you who don't know, palaeography is the study of pre-modern handwriting as well as the practice of reading manuscripts. (As far as I know; can one be a palaeographer of modern documents? I don't think so, but do correct me if I'm wrong.) It's not necessarily the sexiest subject, but it is a vital one for the advancement of ancient, medieval and early modern studies. King's College has done some wonderful work in the world of palaeography, and to lose this programme is a real blow.

But this is not an isolated incident. This ties in to the government's £900 million cuts to universities. Of course I understand the UK is in a difficult financial position right now (and who got us here? But that's another post), but to strike at universities, the heart of the UK's intellectual life, is to potentially cripple us for years to come. The UK will, if cuts like these are sustained, become an academic backwater. We're not a great power any more; our top universities have somehow managed to remain bright spots even as our global star has faded, but for how much longer?

And that's without even thinking about "impact". University research must now be shown to have "impact", that is it must “achieve demonstrable benefits to the wider economy and society”. Sounds great, right? No, not really. "Impact" doesn't include intellectual impact on other scholars, or the intrinsic value of work in and of itself. It must have value outside academia. If you think education is about utility, this may not seem a big deal to you. If you think that learning has value in and of itself, that to be educated is about more than functionality but is also about enrichment and intellectual development, you should be very worried indeed. This article sums up the whole sorry mess better than I can. Here is a succinct summary:

[It] is worth insisting that what we call “the humanities” are a collection of ways of encountering the record of human activity in its greatest richness and diversity. To attempt to deepen our understanding of this or that aspect of that activity is a purposeful expression of human curiosity and is – insofar as the expression makes any sense in this context – an end in itself. Unless these guidelines are modified, scholars in British universities will devote less time and energy to this attempt, and more to becoming door-to-door salesmen for vulgarized versions of their increasingly market-oriented “products”.

The problem is - how? I feel quite powerless. Having only recently gained my PhD and not holding an academic post, I feel helpless in the face of all this. I want to do something, and I hope that my fellow academics - and well-wishers in other fields! - will also want to do something. The question is: what do we do?
ashwednesday: Marilyn Monroe (Happiness)
Exciting news: I passed my viva with flying colours! Huzzah huzzah, I can haz PhD.

But since this blog is more about bits and bobs that I find interesting rather than my life's events (I have lj to detail all that), I am currently irked by this:

The UK's chief drugs adviser has been sacked by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, after criticising government policies.

Professor David Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, criticised the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C.

He accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence and said drugs classification was being politicised.

The home secretary said he had "lost confidence" in his advice and asked him to step down.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) is the UK's official drugs advisory body.

Following his sacking, Prof Nutt told the BBC he stood by his claim that cannabis should not be a Class B drug, based on its effects.

He described his sacking as a "serious challenge to the value of science in relation to the government".

Absolutely outrageous. Prof Nutt isn't saying anything that hasn't been said by many other scientists, medical professionals and those involved in drug rehabilitation and social work. In 2004, cannabis was downgraded from Class B to Class C. But this didn't last long - it was put back into Category B in 2007 - against the advice of official advisors who had presumably been hired to determine whether this was a good idea or not. But who needs SCIENCE or LOGIC when there is a fun IDEOLOGICAL WAR ON DRUGS to wage?
ashwednesday: blossoms (Spring has sprung)
Although the title might make you think it is a Lord of the Rings parody, the Lords of the Blog is actually a group blogging exercise from eleven members of the House of Lords. It makes for interesting reading!
ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
As even the BBC is unable to get inside Iran, I looked to Twitter instead, where brave and ordinary people in Iran are microblogging about their lives - when they can get through blocks put up by the Iranian government. Here are some examples; I think they stand without need for comment.

Mousavi supporters are having "Calmness will beat the bullets" placards and standing near TV/Radio station's mosque. #IranElection

my fellow student is telling me of the horrible things Gov officers did to them when they were under arrest. & I'm crying#gr88

Iranian Army, Basiji, Foreign forces blockading Tehran University, Protesters. Travel in groups, take side streets.

Do not dig out shrapnel in wounds,doing so can hurt it more. نه از گلوله انفجاری در چاه زخم, می تواند کار را هر چه سریعتر حکومت آسيب ببيند.

Gmail and Yahoo messenger is filtered too. They are blocking all the communication means. #iranelection

People have been receiving random automated calls of “You have participated in the protests" to scare them. #IranElection

we have info that tehran uni will be attacked tonight - have contact inside - says uni blocked #Iranelection

confirmed by farsi twitters: around 2000 basiji is now standing in front of dorms.

Masood just called (he's OK), his laptop is destroyed & unfortunately gov intelligent found and arrest Reza at shariati Hospital.

gas eye solution 1/2liquid antacid like Maalox 1/2 water Always irrigate from the inside corner of the eye towards the outside #iranelection

ashwednesday: ocean (Default)
...The mind boggles.

PRIMARY school pupils are to be shown a film about the dangers of terrorists as part of an organised safety day.

More than 2,000 10 and 11-year-olds will see a short film, which urges them to tell the police, their parents or a teacher if they hear anyone expressing extremist views.

The film has been made by school liaison officers and Eastern Division’s new Preventing Violent Extremism team, based at Blackburn.

It uses cartoon animals to get across safety messages.

A lion explains that terrorists can look like anyone, while a cat tells pupils that should get help if they are being bullied and a toad tells them how to cross the road.

The terrorism message is also illustrated with a re-telling of the story of Guy Fawkes, saying that his strong views began forming when he was at school in York. It has been designed to deliver the message of fighting terrorism in accessible way for children.

More on this insanity here.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
Votes MEPs
Party % +/- % Total +/-
CON 28.6 1.2 24 1
UKIP 17.4 0.5 13 1
LAB 15.3 -7.0 11 -5
LD 13.9 -1.1 10 1
GRN 8.7 2.5 2 0
BNP 6.5 1.4 2 2
PC 0.9 -0.1 1 0
SNP 0 0 0 0
SSP 0 0 0 0
OTH 8.6 2.7 0 0
63 of 69 seats declared.

I am already disgusted that my county gave the BNP a seat. I am now pretty horrified that the second biggest number of votes went to UKIP, which seems to me to be Fascism Lite. What the fuck, Britain? If this is any reflection of how people might vote in a general election, I feel really quite alarmed.
ashwednesday: (Academic at work)
You know that the MP expenses furore has become a really big deal when a newspaper like the Torygraph is holding "socialist" MPs up as a good example!

In some ways, the storm that has arisen over MPs expenses really feels like a tempest in a teacup. Similar expenses have been claimed in years gone by, and it feels as if this story is a good filler now that people aren't worried about swine flu. (Today I received a leaflet from the government, by the by, on how to protect myself from swine flu - possibly a bit late, guys?) Many of the expenses that MPs can claim seem reasonable considering the remit of their jobs. The fuss over the accidental claiming for 2 adult films by Jacqui Smith - clearly an embarrassing mistake - reflects a desire by the press to feed gossip to a public that is increasingly dissatisfied with its government. On the other hand, it does seem like a lot of people have really been taking advantage of the system; the fact that so much money can be spent and the rules have not been broken suggests a need to reform those rules (a process which has in fact already begun). This is particularly annoying when I think how I have worked for central government departments on several occasions, and I know how carefully civil servants are expected to watch their expenses - it would be nice if MPs did the same.

It seems that a lot of the queries about expenses comes from the practice of owning second homes. Most MPs require a base in London as well as in their constituency, and MPs are not paid so lavishly that running two households is necessarily easy. I do think that greater common sense could be applied to the way second properties are run, however, and I like Kelvin Hopkins' suggestion:
...I have signed an Early Day Motion calling for the nationalisation of all second homes. If the state owned flats and rented them out to MPs, there wouldn’t be any problems about second home allowances or switching homes from one place to another and you wouldn’t have these problems with capital gains tax.

This would of course involve a substantial initial outlay from the government, but in the long term could be beneficial, I think. The Prime Minister's residences are owned by the state; why not do the same with MPs' properties? Obviously, I'm not an economist, so I have no idea if this idea has any weight...

Anyway, this is all by-the-by when we consider the more important breaking news of the moment... Peter Andre to divorce glamour model Jordan. And here we were all rooting for those crazy kids to make it.


ashwednesday: ocean (Default)

January 2013

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