Sunday, 28 December 2008

A short one today

[I was in Edinburgh yesterday visiting my grandmother which is why there was no post.]

Here's a very informative post from Though Cowards Flinch which (to whet your appetite) starts:

Over any holiday, online reading material tends to accumulate. Christmas 2008 has been no exception even though no few blogs are on vacation. One that I really wanted to challenge was the post over at Mil’s place entitled, “The Petri Dish Philosophy of Politics“. Mil makes the argument that we should import regional minimum wages into the UK, allowing say Birmingham or Manchester to experiment with a higher minimum wage.


Friday, 26 December 2008

Balanced Theological Discourse

This blog and its writers believe in allowing opinions to be voiced and in encouraging a balanced view of issues. On Wednesday we had a post about the pope from a Catholic. Obviously to balance it up we need an opposing view; that of an atheist, me.

And I'll start by saying, good for you Benedict.

No readers I haven't lost my marbles and embraced homophobia (although there are some who say his comments on that issue have been misrepresented), I am referring to his Christmas day address. Which included this (emphasis mine):

Wherever the dignity and rights of the human person are trampled upon; wherever the selfishness of individuals and groups prevails over the common good; wherever fratricidal hatred and the exploitation of man by man risk being taken for granted; wherever internecine conflicts divide ethnic and social groups and disrupt peaceful coexistence; wherever terrorism continues to strike; wherever the basics needed for survival are lacking; wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the Light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity. If people look only to their own interests, our world will certainly fall apart.

A lot of the speech was religious BS but this bit is spot on; especially the final line. That last line comes close to summing up the main difference between labour and the Tories, we stand for everyone they stand for themselves.

p.s. There will not be a Blogorama this week ebcause of the holiday. Blogorama V will instead be posted on the 31st. (probably.

p.p.s. On a wild tangent Blogger doesn't recognise "Blog" as being a word!!!

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

I Just have to say this

I have my own Blog which i spend too little time posting too but I have just done so and I wanted to post the link for my most recent post here.

I want to make it clear that it is my view and may not be the view of the club as a whole but If you fancy having a look then come and see the post.


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

This is powerful

From Feministe:

Monday, 22 December 2008

The De Facto Flat Tax

I'm feeling lazy today after travelling 250 miles on the train yesterday so I'm pretty much just going to copy and paste a story without a great deal my usual insightful analysis which I know you all love. This post from Mike the Mad Biologist at (Surprise, surprise) Scienceblogs looks at the conservative argument that a flat tax is the way forward, he believes that Americans essentially already have a flat tax due to the unfair distribution of the tax burden.

Concerning the flat tax I think the conservatives are, in a twisted way, partially correct; a flat will work...

...if you don't want any Social Security, National Health or Universal Education. Most people however want to live in a fair society (or simply just live at all when it comes to healthcare provision) so this is not really an option. Unless, like Donald Trump, you want to be free to horde your millions; in which case a flat tax is great. That doesn't really cover many people.

Anyway here's what Mike has to say:

Every so often, conservatives bring up the flat tax, wherein everyone pays the same amount of income tax, regardless of how much they make. Most of these plans, unless you want to eliminate the entire Pentagon, will raise the tax burden on the lower middle and middle class, and lower them on the wealthy, further increasing income inequality. But the whole argument presumes that the wealthy actually pay considerably more of their income in tax than the non-wealthy.

By way of Kevin Drum, comes this figure indicating otherwise--in fact, the wealthiest 400 Americans pay less than middle class families ($75,000-100,000):

flat tax

It goes without saying that the wealthiest Americans have far more income left over after paying taxes, which is one of the reasons why college education and housing prices have increased much faster than the median wage. You're competing with people who have far more post-tax income than you do. Good luck with that.

But what's really astonishing is that, once all taxes are factored in, we essentially have a flat tax. For $50,000 and higher, realized tax rates range between 17.4% to 22.3%. Sure, it's not identical, but I'm pretty certain that those in the top 1% can handle it.

Extra bonus observation: Most flat-tax plans don't eliminate Social Security taxes, and these taxes fall disproportionately on those who make less than $100,000 per year (there's a cap, so, for the wealthly, most income is not taxed). Middle class households would end up paying more of their income in taxes.


The first commenter at Scienceblogs makes a very good point:

The biggest difference between the rich and the rest of us is that, the further you go up, the proportion of their income that derives from wages and salary (and subject to income tax) becomes much smaller. Most wealthy people get the majority of their wealth from capital gains, which is taxed at a rate about half that of wages and salary.

The whole area of economics and finance is a bit over my head, so I think we're lucky in this country to have such a fine Chancellor and before him an even better one in Gordon Brown.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A lighter note on Rick Warren

I've been posting a lot of serious things recently so here's a more light hearted piece about Rick Warren from the Huffington Post: (Via Feministe) (Bolded emphasis is mine)

(NOTE: Copies of what seemed to be a draft of an inaugural invocation by Pastor Rick Warren arrived in the fax machines of several prominent journalists this morning. This site does not vouch for the authenticity of the draft, although each of the statements does conform to material in Pastor Warren's speeches, interviews, or on his websites.)

O Lord, as we come together on this historic and solemn occasion to inaugurate a president and vice president. We pray, O Lord, for President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, to whom You have entrusted leadership of this nation at this moment in history.

We pray for their advisors and supporters, particularly their Jewish advisors and supporters, who will surely roast in hell if they do not abandon their refusal to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Pray for the conversion of Obama chief advisor David Axelrod and his economic wise man Larry Summers, his early supporters Lester Crown and his campaign finance chair Penny Pritzker, for, as the Bible says, there will be a day when there will be a great revival of faith in God through Jesus among the Jewish people. (Romans 11). Obviously, this is a day that we, as believers in Christ, want to pray for! Let the light of Christian salvation come to the Jewish Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and his family, some of whom survived the German effort to bring them to Christian truth in the last generation.

May all efforts to stop homosexuals from violating the ancient humanitarian institution of marriage succeed as did your will in California in the last election. Attend particularly, O lord, to President Obama's environmental chief Nancy Sutley, and to the man who has worked essentially without sleep for three months to save the American economy from total collapse, Representative Barney Frank. Use the government to bring an end to acts as bad as incest, pedophilia and polygamy, by stamping out homosexuality among the homosexuals, a people evolutionarily unfit, that we may truly become one nation before God. May the First Amendment to the Constitution protect all who want to compare homosexual sex to incest, pedophilia and polygamy from the arrows of hate speech accusations shot by the politically correct.

Change the hearts of the new administration's pro-choice advisors and supporters, including the Justices of the Supreme Court who stand here today with us: Holocaust denier Anthony Kennedy, holocaust denier Ruth Bader Ginzburg, holocaust denier David Souter, holocaust denier Stephen Breyer, and holocaust denier John Paul Stevens, who is about to swear in the Vice-President, in that abortion is a holocaust and the eighteen million or so women who have committed abortion in the thirty-five years since 1973 are thus no better than Nazis.

Bless the women, who have chosen to follow their ambitions into public life, but change the hearts, Lord, of Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis from independent lives of their own to submission to their husbands, if any, for I love the King James Version's rendition of Ephesians 5:22 "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands" and of course "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ if God." 1 Corinthians 11:3. These women have chosen to participate in the public life of the community. Enlighten them as to the requirement that women not speak in church, saving any questions they have about their common life to ask their husbands as they return home.

Now, O Lord, despite the plain language of the Constitution that created this great nation, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to You. May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before You and acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Well I thought it was funny.

Throw the Gay Down the Well and My Country Will Be Free

We are now under a month away from the end of Bush's term in office, more importantly we are under a month away from the Inauguration of Barack Obama as President. Much has been made of Obama's various cabinet appointments and the plans he has made with his transition team. This short period of transition is our first chance to see the reality as Obama as President, and it is for that reason that his choice of Rick Warren to give the Invocation at the Inauguration ceremony has kicked up a storm of commentary.

The issue is covered by Greta Christina, Daylight Atheism, The Questionable Authority, ERV, Friendly Atheist, Feministe, Religion Dispatches, The Boiling Point, Blogger Interrupted, , Pam's House Blend (Those last two cover the issue of the other religious leader speaking at the Inauguration which I will address later), amongst a mulitude of others.

The general consensus (Which I agree with) is one of disapproval; this choice of a man who has compared homosexuality with bestiality and abortion to the Holocaust is seen as misguided political manoeuvre intended to bring Fundamentalist Evangelicals to his team. Obama's stated justification of it is that:

In keeping with the spirit of unity and common purpose this Inauguration will reflect, the President-elect and Vice President-elect have chosen some of the world's most gifted artists and people with broad appeal to participate in the inaugural ceremonies.
(Excerpt from released "talking points".)

Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign's been all about, that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans. (emphasis mine)

Essentially the argument that Obama is proposing is that in a free and tolerant society all viewpoints should be represented and everyone should be included. I think his basic position can be summed up as "we can disagree without being disagreeable", now that is usually a sentiment I agree with. In this case however it is simply not true, because Rick Warren's positions are not just talk. As we have seen just recently in California (Our coverage here and here) people's rights can be curtailed and their lives affected detrimentally by the actions of people like Rick Warren. It's good to be inclusive but sometimes it's not possible to include everyone and then you have to make a choice. By choosing Rick Warren Obama is not simply giving a pedestal to a homophobe, he is essentially endorsing his positions as being ok, he is saying that it's ok to be a bigot and to campaign against rights. It's ok to make slanderous attacks against your fellow human beings on the basis of sexuality.

And that makes me angry because those things aren't ok, and to justify it as disagreeing without being disagreeable is utterly galling. As The Questionable Authority puts it:

The problem comes with that whole "disagree without being disagreeable" thing. Rick Warren recently compared homosexuality to pedophilia, bestiality, and polygamy. That's not disagreeing without being disagreeable. That's being nasty without shouting. There's a very large difference, and it's a bit disappointing that Mr. Obama doesn't see that.

We can disagree without being disagreeable but comparing gay people to paedophiles and bestialists is very disagreeable.

From Boiling Point Blogs comes Rachel Maddow on the issue:

To show that I am myself trying to be fair and not just indulging in a bit of religion bashing I'd like to talk about what is pretty much the flip side of the coin, because whilst Warren's bigotry and intolerance are firmly based in his religion there are other, equally devout, Christians who disagree with his opinions. One such man is the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery. From Blogger Interrupted:

If I were Rick Warren, I’d have the nuts to turn down the invitation to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama’s inauguration, simply based on decency. But even further, if I were Rick Warren, in the interests of my own ego, I’d be smart enough to avoid comparison of my Celebrity Driven Life with that of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, who’ll be giving the benediction after Barack’s speech.
That comparison fails on one mere fact.

In 1965, King named Lowery to deliver the demands of a planned Selma-to-Montgomery march for voting rights to then-Alabama Governor George Wallace. In an event that shocked the nation, police tear-gassed and clubbed the peaceful marchers at Edmund Pettus Bridge.

For those, like me, not familiar with that protest here's a video of the brutal events that unfolded at what was a peaceful gathering:

The main point I would like to make is that this is a fine and great leader, a person who is able to see beyond the differences between individuals and fight against injustice not matter who it falls upon. he is just as devout as rick Warren and yet treats his fellow humans in an entirely different way. This is the kind of person that should be endorsed, and I'm glad that Obama has done so by including him in the proceedings..

He spoke at the memorial service of Coretta Scott King (Another wonderful individual) and what he said resonates with me:

Thank you, Coretta. Didn't she carry her grief with dignity? Her growing influence with humility? She secured his seed, nurtured his nobility she declared humanity's worth, invented their vision, his and hers, for peace in all the Earth. She opposed discrimination based on race, she frowned on homophobia and gender bias, she rejected on its face. She summoned the nations to study war no more. She embraced the wonders of a human family from shoulder to shoulder. Excuse me, Maya.

She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance, poverty abound. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.

Well, Coretta had harsh critics. Some no one could please. But she paid them no mind. She kept speaking. As we get older, or so I'm told, we listen in to heaven like the prophets of old. I heard Martin and Coretta say, "do us a favor, Joe, those four little children I spoke of in 1963, they are fine adults now, as all can see. They already know but tell them again. We love them so dear. Assure them we will always be near. Their troubles to bless and sanctify to them their deepest distress. Tell them we believe in them as we know you do. We know their faith in god and their love for each other will see them through. Assure them at the end of the tunnel awaits god's light and we are confident they will always strive for the right. Tell them don't forget to remember that we are as near as their prayer-and never as far and we can rest in peace because they know who and whose they are."

Now that is the kind of message that I want and expect from Barack Obama, and that's the kind of leader I want him to be. I believe in diversity, but if diversity in one direction curtails diversity in another we have to make a choice. In the case of gay rights that choice is between men like rick Warren who wish to curtail rights, and people who merely want to live their lives with the same freedoms as everyone else.

I don't think that that's a difficult choice.

I'd really like to hear what everyone else has to say, whether you agree or disagree please comment.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

A Message From John Prescott

This was sent to in a message sent out to all of the members of the "NO IFS, NO BUTS - PASS ON THE CUT" Facebook group. it was originally a blog post on Labourhome.

This Christmas 340 people face losing their jobs in my Hull constituency. Whilst this sadly isn’t uncommon across the country at the moment, what’s made me very angry is that is was entirely preventable and the result of a bank’s greed.

Atlas Holiday Homes has a long and proud history – a successful firm that for 30 years had a credit facility with Barclays.

That was until the bank decided to take it away even though the company had a full order book way into March next year.

Which is why I was furious to hear Barclays Chief Executive John Varley tell the BBC that firms and households will have to wait another two years before bank lending goes back to normal.

Well it's a damn good thing we didn't wait up to two years to bail out the banking sector to the tune of £37b, isn’t it?

That’s why I started my Facebook campaign ‘No Ifs No Buts – Pass on the Cut’ to pressure the banks to pass on the interest rate cuts in full for customers and businesses.

Many of these banks were bailed out by this Government but Barclays preferred to sort out their own refinancing package with Abu Dhabi and Qatari investors.

Mr Varley said at the time: “Our ability to do what our shareholders would expect of us would be compromised if Barclays was nationalized.”

Which means they wanted to carry on giving out healthy dividends and wallet-busting bonuses. Last year, they posted profits of £7 billion.

But on 30 August 2007, Barclays was forced to borrow £1.6bn from the Bank of England sterling standby facility, which is made available as a last-resort when banks are unable to settle their debts to other banks at the end of daily trading.

Yes we bailed out Barclays by giving them a credit facility! And what did Mr Varley get last year? A bonus of £1.45 million whilst Barclay’s President got ten times as much - £14.8m

Atlas Holiday Homes can’t wait two years for banks to recapitalize, Mr Varley. They’ll go under if you uphold this ridiculous and shortsighted decision.

And you wonder why banks are facing a PR crisis? It’s not a case of saying sorry and admitting to the sins of the past. It’s about doing what is morally and economically right and passing on the interest cuts in full and increasing lending.

This Monday, Atlas will meet with the administrators and the council to see what can be done. All three Hull MPs have also written to Peter Mandelson to make him aware of the situation and ask him for help.

So in the spirit of Xmas I call on you Mr Varley and Barclays to do the decent thing and save Atlas, give them back their credit facility and make 340 Hull families very happy.

So No Ifs, No Buts – get lending!

You can join our 'No Ifs, No Buts, Pass on the Cut' facebook group here.

I agree with this, the sheer arrogance of the banks infuriates me. We have to take extraordinary steps to stabilise the economy and clean up their mess but they think that they can just go on with business as usual. This is unacceptable and we should use the fact that we have the whip hand right now to make some positive changes.

This is unbelievable

I'll keep it simple and just say that I agree with Feministe's sentiment; this is sickening:

It was a little before 8 at night when the breaker went out at Emily Milburn’s home in Galveston. She was busy preparing her children for school the next day, so she asked her 12-year-old daughter, Dymond, to pop outside and turn the switch back on.

As Dymond headed toward the breaker, a blue van drove up and three men jumped out rushing toward her. One of them grabbed her saying, “You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with me.”

Dymond grabbed onto a tree and started screaming, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” One of the men covered her mouth. Two of the men beat her about the face and throat.

As it turned out, the three men were plain-clothed Galveston police officers who had been called to the area regarding three white prostitutes soliciting a white man and a black drug dealer.

All this is according to a lawsuit filed in Galveston federal court by Milburn against the officers. The lawsuit alleges that the officers thought Dymond, an African-American, was a hooker due to the “tight shorts” she was wearing, despite not fitting the racial description of any of the female suspects. The police went to the wrong house, two blocks away from the area of the reported illegal activity, Milburn’s attorney, Anthony Griffin, tells Hair Balls.

After the incident, Dymond was hospitalized and suffered black eyes as well as throat and ear drum injuries.

Three weeks later, according to the lawsuit, police went to Dymond’s school, where she was an honor student, and arrested her for assaulting a public servant. Griffin says the allegations stem from when Dymond fought back against the three men who were trying to take her from her home. The case went to trial, but the judge declared it a mistrial on the first day, says Griffin. The new trial is set for February.

“I think we’ll be okay,” says Griffin. “I don’t think a jury will find a 12-year-old girl guilty who’s just sitting outside her house. Any 12-year-old attacked by three men and told that she’s a prostitute is going to scream and yell for Daddy and hit back and do whatever she can. She’s scared to death.”

Since the incident more than two years ago, Dymond regularly suffers nightmares in which police officers are raping and beating her and cutting off her fingers, according to the lawsuit.

Griffin says he expects to enter mediation with the officers in early 2009 to resolve the lawsuit.

This is disturbing on so many levels. Most obviously the fact the a 12-year old black girl was supposedly mistaken for three white women, then there's the level of violence directed against a child, on top of that three weeks later she was taken out of her school in what seems to me like a pretty transparent attempt to intimidate.

Perhaps a little less obvious are the issues related to sex workers, I find it despicable that the police would unleash that level of violence against what is after all a non-violent crime. Not to mention that if they did, as they claim, believe she was a prostitute that's not something that should be dealt with by the police. A 12-year old prostitute is a child protection issue, it's not an issue that can be dealt with a club to the back of the head.

On a related issue this Wednesday was theInternational Day to
End Violence Against Sex Workers
; sex workers are at high risk of violence not just because of their working environment but also because of society's (in my opinion hypocritical) disapproval of their profession. I would hope that anyone reading this would be able to put aside any disapproval of the profession and see the human beings who are affected by violence.

Related to this issue is human trafficking; the BBC has this to say on human trafficking into the UK (Emphasis added by bolding is mine):

The UK is a major destination for trafficked women. Police believe that about 4,000 have been brought in to the country and forced to work as prostitutes.

Criminal gangs bring them into the country individually or in small, escorted groups. The routes used can change quickly, although some broad routes have been identified.

Victims are found "all over the UK, not just in metropolitan areas", police say.

The gangs behind the trade buy and sell the women for between £2,000 and £8,000. Some have been forced to work 16 hours and have sex with 30 men a day.

A lot of the women brought into this country to be raped by British men are very young and some are children. I wonder how the British police would handle a situation like that involving Dymond Milburn, I would hope that it would be a lot better than the Galveston police. I can't imagine how it could be much worse.

This is one of many extremely serious issues that Labour must address, and for me it's one of the reasons why we must fight for a fourth term. The Tories, like the Republicans in the US, like to fight on a platform of "old fashioned family values". Which essentially means reinforcing the status quo of rich white men. They would ignore cases like this because "hey, if they weren't prostitutes it wouldn't happen to them so they're to blame".

Let's Go 4th for Universal Human Rights.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Franken Pulls "Way" Ahead in Recount

[Edit] The Huffington Post is projecting a Franken victory.

Yes, counting of ballots in still ongoing in the Minnesota Senatorial election a month and half after election day. The good news though is that Democratic candidate Al Franken has pulled ahead. This from Greg Laden at Scienceblogs:

There remain at least to other matters to settle. One is the question of alleged duplicate ballots that the Coleman camp wants rejected. It may in fact be the case that some ballots were duplicated and both the original and duplicate counted. There may be about 150 - 200 of these, but I am not sure what removal of these votes from the count would do.

The second issue is the absentee ballots. There are quite a few, possibly between 500 and 1500, absentee ballots that were rejected for invalid reasons. These rejected ballots should really be counted. The Franken camp pushed for this, the Secretary of State agreed and told the counties that they could (but did not necessarily have to) do so, the Coleman camp too this to the State Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled, essentially, in favor of looking at these ballots.

A third issue, I have just learned, is that some of the previously withdrawn challenges have not been added back into the count.

The de-challenged ballots that were removed before the Canvassing board started have not been included in the total, or at least, some of them. Still trying to find out how many. The ones that were removed during the canvassing operation itself are being dealt with on the spot.

The consideration of these absentee ballots is generally thought to favor Franken.

It would be very amusing to see yet another Republican lose their seat after looking like they'd won. Especially in this case because Al Franken has done some very funny stuff.

This is Franken on the Late Show with David letterman discussing running for Senator:

And on the issue of conservative "facts":

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's offical website please go to

Whilst us lucky students have been busily "working" towards the end of term this week Aberdeen South MP Anne Begg has been having another busy week down in Westminster.

Week beginning 15th Dec- A week dominated by Chairing.

As a member of the Speaker's panel of Chairmen I regularly have to Chair committees of the House or debates in Westminster Hall, which acts as a Second Chamber. On Monday and Tuesday this week I chaired 2 Statutory Instrument committees, one about the rescue package for banks and another on amendments to Child Benefit.

However, the highlight of my week was the first meeting in my new role as Vice Chair of the newly formed Speaker's Conference on Tuesday. Speaker's Conferences are extremely rare, there have only been 5 in the history of parliament, and are established to look at a specific aspect of electoral law. This Conference is predominately tasked with looking at the under representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons. Previous conferences have proposed such important developments as votes for women (1916) and the reduction of the voting age to 18 (1965).

The first meeting was an informal private one so we could hear from some academics about the issues under consideration. As Vice-Chair I will be Chairing most of the business meetings - the first public one will be on 20th January 2009. It is a real honour to be asked to do this and I feel privileged that I can play a part in such an important discussion.

My intervention in the Chamber this week was also on Tuesday during Health Questions. While most aspects of health are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, there are still some aspects which aren't, such as the regulation of prescription drugs. You can see my question here.

Select Committee on Wednesday was a one off evidence session on the work of the Pension, Disability and Carers Service. I was able to ask some questions about the workings of Disability Living Allowance. This is where my work in Parliament and my constituency work can cross, as the questions I asked were prompted by real life examples I have come across from my contact with constituents.

The government has also just produced its response to the Select Committee’s report into Carers, which we published in the summer. It was more positive than some government responses have been in the past, so hopefully some of the recommendations we made will be adopted.

I flew back to Aberdeen on Thursday as I was invited to judge the Young Philanthropists Initiative at Torry Academy. This year’s winners were a group of pupils who were promoting a local charity, Befriend a Child, a befriending service for deprived and vulnerable children in Aberdeen.

Office to close for 2 weeks for Christmas on Friday evening, the only time the office is closed all year, so it is a mad rush to get as much as possible cleared. Never mind though, the mail will still be delivered to my house over the holiday period and the e-mails will doubtless pour in as usual.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers the very best for the festive season.

I would like to draw your attention to one paragraph in particular:

However, the highlight of my week was the first meeting in my new role as Vice Chair of the newly formed Speaker's Conference on Tuesday. Speaker's Conferences are extremely rare, there have only been 5 in the history of parliament, and are established to look at a specific aspect of electoral law. This Conference is predominately tasked with looking at the under representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons.

I think the one of the best ways to secure equality in society is to ensure equality in the legislative bodies that determine society's rules. I don't know the breakdown of other demographics but from the official Parliament Homepage the number of female MPs is 125 (94 of those being Labour!) out of a total of 646. The tories only have 17 out of their close to 200 and the SNP have no female MPs in their delegation of 7. These statistics are completely unacceptable and I'm glad to see that action is being taken to tackle this non-representation of women in the House of Commons.

To finish off I'd like to echo Anne's Christmas greetings to all reading this, and to the students i hope you enjoy your Christmas break and get lots of revision done.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Pictures from 2008

The Boston Globe's Big Picture (Which I've mentioned before.) segment is currently running a round-up of images from throughout the year. There are some very thought provoking and spectacular images so I would recommend you go and see it for yourself.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Imam Hashim Raza leads mourners in prayer during a funeral for Mohsin Naqvi at al-Fatima Islamic Center in Colonie, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 22, 2008. Naqvi was a Muslim, a native of Pakistan (he emigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was 8 years old and became a citizen at 16) and a U.S. Army officer. He was killed by a roadside bomb while on patrol in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

In this Jan. 23, 2008, the construction site of the new China Central Television headquarters building is seen in Beijing. The building's two angled towers were connected in December to form a continuous loop of horizontal and vertical sections. The 230 meter (755 foot) building, one of Beijing's tallest, houses more than 10,000 staff. (AP Photo/Greg Baker) #

View of the Large hadron Collider's CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment Tracker Outer Barrel (TOB) in the cleaning room. The CMS is one of two general-purpose LHC experiments designed to explore the physics of the Terascale, the energy region where physicists believe they will find answers to the central questions at the heart of 21st-century particle physics. The Large Hadron Collider was scheduled to be up and running by the end of 2008, but electrical difficulties have set the date back to summer of 2009. (Maximilien Brice, © CERN) #

Aberdeen Research Lauded

How about a bit of good news for a change [Source:BBC]. Research is of course one of the most important roles of universities and as Prof Anton Muscatelli of Universities Scotland says that research covers a wide area:

"The results aren't just about the economy. The work these findings measure will result in major breakthroughs in health, energy, culture, information management, environmental technology and many other fields which will change people's lives for the better."

That's the very reason I love science and technology so much; they do so much to enrich the lives of human beings everywhere and constantly push back the boundary of knowledge.

The quality of research produced by Scottish universities has reached new heights, according to a study.

An independent review said the country's share of UK research rated as internationally excellent or better had gone up from 11.6% to 12.3% since 2001.

The results were revealed as part of the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE).

The RAE, carried out by peer review panels, is used to assess the standard of research for all subjects and allocate £1.5bn of university funding.

The study showed that every university in Scotland produced at least some research which was judged to be "world-leading".

The data grades university research using a star system, where four stars denotes research that is of world-leading quality.

A three-star grading denotes research that is internationally excellent, while two stars means the research is recognised internationally and one star denotes research that is nationally recognised.

The University of Edinburgh came top in Scotland with 63% of research activity given four or three stars.

It was rated best in the UK for medicine, veterinary sciences, IT and linguistics.
St Andrews, the University of Glasgow, University of Aberdeen and the University of Dundee completed the top five in Scotland.

In total, 1,000 Scottish researchers and their supporting teams were considered to be leading the world.

Edinburgh University principal, Prof Sir Timothy O'Shea, said: "Research at the University of Edinburgh is constantly expanding the depth of human knowledge and making an impact on the wider world, improving the quality of life for people in Scotland and further afield."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Blogorama IV: John's Labour Blog

[Just a note this might seem a little (or very) incoherent but that's because it's end of term time and I have quite a few things to do.]

After last week's jaunt into the world of Feminist blogging today we return to the true substance of Blogorama; Labour blogging.

The subject of this week's Blogorama is the personal blog of trade union activist and Labour Party member John Gray. (There are some here who will be interested to note that he has an interest in the History of Labour)

John works for UNISON, for those who aren't familiar with the organisation, in his words:

UNISON is the largest Housing union in the UK. We have members in Council housing departments, ALMOs, Registered social landlords (Housing associations) and the supported housing sector. But also our 1.4 million members are either homeowners or tenants themselves or in need of affordable housing.

He covers a variety of Labour related issues, quite a few of them to do with UNISON. He covered the same 10 point refutal of the criticism of public pensions that we covered. I like to see Labour bloggers working in harmony to get the message out.

He made a video explaining the sub-prime crisis which some might find interesting:

Like me, John appreciates the importance of Europe, in a recent post he raised some very relevant points for Labour regarding next years European elections. [Claude is Claude Moraes, a London MEP who was the second guest speaker at the London Region Labour Link meeting that John had attended.]

However the socialist and progressive majority in Europe is razor thin. If not enough Labour MEPs are elected then the assembly could fall into the hands of EU “Conservatives” and this will mean the end of such progressive policies. It is also critical for the unions to support Labour MEPs so they can oppose the dark side of the EU legislative regime, such as the “Services Directorate” which could result in the forced privatisation of local government and NHS care services.

Claude also warned that the likely collapse of the UKIP (due in part to their corruption scandals and the behaviour of their maverick MEPs) could result in the BNP getting 7% of the vote in London and gaining a MEP.

Currently he is involved in a serious, and especially from a blogging perspective disheartening, situation involving an article he posted on Labourhome. He is being sued for libel by a former Labour Party member (Now a Tory via Respect and the Communist Party). The situation is covered well by this postby David Osler who is involved in the same case. At the heart of the case is freedom of speech online and in particular who is responsible for repercussions of comments on a website or forum. Comments made on the post which is at the heart of the libel case have been cited:

Comments left on the original post form part of the action, something that in itself raises important issues for freedom of speech on the internet. One of the grounds on which this action is being brought is a remark in this blog's comments box that describes Ms Kaschke as 'one cherry short of a Schwarzwalderkirschtorte'. The merit of this designation is now entirely a matter for the court; however, such deliberations can scarcely be considered the optimal use of judicial time.

As most blogging aficionados will realise, such a lighthearted and jocular insult is nothing compared to the anarchic mêlée of a controversial thread in full flight. Everyone - regardless of political affiliation - who values the right to express an opinion online in vernacular English should support all of the bloggers involved in this blizzard of writs.

Whilst I don't believe that people should be allowed to defame others at will I am very uneasy with the use of litigation to stifle criticism. Especially since Labourhome deleted the offending article and offered the litigant space on the front page to air their side of the story. I think it's very important that the issue of freedom of speech on the internet is tackled otherwise many more bloggers could end up being dragged into court and face large legal bills even if they win.

I hope you enjoy reading this week's featured blog and look forward to reading next week's Blogorama; Blogorama V. Which will be on Christmas Eve.

Post 100: Why History Can't Wait

Time magazine has just announced its 2008 Person of the Year (Kudos to Time for the gender neutral name.) and to the surprise of very few people it is Barack Obama.

I would recommend checking out the Time website, there are links to some very good stuff. I like the gallery of images created featuring Obama. I think my favourite has to be portrait made from a collage of photos:

You should also check out "Six Degrees of Obama", which sets out how Obama is connected to every previous Time Person of the Year.

Opinion poll latest

I have been having a quiet day today so I have only just seen the latest opinion poll from the Guardian, you may remember that last month they had the tories with a massive 15% lead while other polling companies had the lead falling to as low as 1%.

Well the poll has seen the lead fall to 5% which as would mean that Labour would be 30 seats short of a majority but more importantly would be the largest party in the house.

So although its not as good as the other polls that we have mentioned on this blog over the last few weeks it can be seen to confirm the trends that the tories support is falling, labours increasing and that there is everything to play for.

I would also remind people who laughed at my prediction that Labour would win by at least 31 seats when i made it a year ago that maybe just maybe i will be collecting the bets on offer at the time.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Did we really liberate Afghanistan?

As of the 15th of this month 133 British Forces personnel or MOD civilians have been killed in Afghanistan.

Now why is that? For freedom? Don't make me laugh. If Afghanistan has been liberated why can someone be sentenced to death for reading about Women's Rights (later commuted to 20 years), or face death for the "crime" of wanting to change religion. This is a country remember where young girls have to fear going to school because they are at risk of acid attack.

And now this:

From the article:

This image, taken by US photographer Stephanie Sinclair in Afghanistan, has been named Unicef Photo of the Year. Pictured are Mohammed, 40, and his new 11-year-old wife, Ghulam.

The terror in that little girl's eyes breaks my heart into a thousand pieces—especially because we are meant to have freed her; we are meant to have given her a better life.

"In the last two-and-a-half years, we have seen remarkable and hopeful development in world history. Just think about it: More than 50 million men, women and children have been liberated from two of the most brutal tyrannies on earth—50 million people are free. All these people are now learning the blessings of freedom."President George Bush, claiming victory over tyranny on behalf of women at a White House Celebration of International Women's Day, March 12, 2004.

According to Unicef, about 60 million girls around the world are married while still children. The blessings of freedom.

Consider this, while you're enjoying your Christmas dinner that little girl might be being raped by her "husband".

Thins were bad under the Taleban and it's great that they've been deposed but to call what was put in their place freedom is an insult to those, like this 11 year old girl, who still live without fundamental rights.

Public Sector Pensions ----------- THE TRUTH

A couple of weeks ago David Cameron made a speech where he argued that public sector pensions should in his opinion be reformed (this is code for take it off them as they don't deserve it) here is a report of the initial speech and its from the Telegraph so clearly its not balanced as it comes from the right.

At the same time I'm also posting this, which is a simple 10 point response to the initial story and thanks to Tom and Labouandcapital for posting it. The response is by Naomi at the GMB and as she points out,

1. Public sector pensions potentially keep 12million people from reliance on state benefits in retirement.
2. Public sector pension schemes, in particular the funded Local Government Pension Scheme, generate billions of pounds worth of investment in the UK economy.
3. Public sector pension schemes encourage retirement saving among 5.75m public sector workers – 85% of public sector workers are members of a pension scheme (compared with 40% in the private sector).
4. Lack of retirement saving in the private sector will lead to more poverty and significant pressure on state benefits in the future.
5. Greater poverty in retirement resulting from inadequate company pension provision in the private sector will lead to greater pressures on the NHS and local care services.
6. All workers pay for everyone’s retirement income. The price of goods and services includes the cost of private sector pension provision, just like tax levels include the cost of public sector pension provision.
7. State benefits are funded by national insurance and taxation paid by everyone and used more by those with lower incomes e.g. those with inadequate pension savings due to poor private sector provision.
8. Public sector pensions account for about 20% of public sector workers’ remuneration packages.
9. Public sector pension schemes are good quality and rightly so, the country needs private sector schemes to be as good. Lower pensions for all means poverty in old age for all.
10. ‘Apartheid’ was the official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against non-whites; it is not an appropriate description of occupational pension provision.

Now I will declare an interest in this story, I am married to someone who is paying into a public sector pension scheme, someone who is committed to her job and who believes that the public sector and its workers provides a service for the all the people and not just those who can afford it.

So thanks dave for giving us all another reason to remember why tories bad, labour good, as Labour works for the good of the many not just the few.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Better late than never

The title of the blog refers both to the lateness of the blog (The anniversary that is the subject of this post being yesterday and all) and the anniversary which is to be celebrated.

The anniversary in question is 90 years since Decmber 14th 1918. What significance does this date hold? Well for that i'll hand you over to the Fawcett Society:

90th anniversary of the first UK election in which women could vote

14 December 2008 is the 90th anniversary of the election of the first woman to the British House of Commons, and the first election in which women (over 30 years) were able to stand as candidates and to vote, after Millicent Fawcett led the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies to win the vote for women in 1918.

Fawcett celebrated the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave all women over 30 and married women the right to vote, in February of this year with an event hosted by the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP. The event featured a speech from Baroness Boothroyd, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.

Fawcett Director Dr Katherine Rake's speech, a Vision for Gender Equality, can be read [Pdf file: here].

To celebrate the anniversary, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has produced a feature remembering pioneering political women of the time. The feature is available to view by following the link below, and includes biographies of 25 prominent women, including Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurt, and Eleanor Rathbone.

Well here's to those Sufragettes who struggled so hard and for so long for the rights that we now enjoy. And here's also to those still struggling for equality both here in the UK, and in the rest of the world.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful

A tip o' the hat to John Gray from whom I got this lovely new snow effect.

And just to give this post a bit more substance how about a bit of actual festive music:

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Westboro Baptist Church Choir

I posted the words of a carol from the Westboro Baptist Church on Friday. I can now, thanks to Orac at scienceblogs, bring you a video of it actually being performed by this group of bigoted morons.


"Euthanize David Mitchell!"

Though Cowards Flinch used this same provocative title in a response to an article written by David Mitchell in the Guardian's Comment is free section. This article was concerning euthanasia and was inspired by the recent discussion in the subject brought up by the death of Craig Ewert assisted by the Swiss charity Dignitas.

Though Cowards Flinch had an extremely negative view of the article which I largely share. Whilst I enjoy David Mitchell's comedic work the arguments he offers are weak and the jokes he makes fall flat, for example:

Like L. casei imunitas, the friendly bacterium, and Excellium, the fuel, it comes from a school of branding that believes that cod-Latinising a nice word makes people believe that your product or service possesses that positive attribute. It's attempting to reverse engineer etymology so that customers will think: 'Of course! We must derive our modern word "immunity" from the ancient Roman anti-bloating yoghurt.' Anyone stupid enough to believe that deserves a big pill.

Well no actually, the reason L. casei immunitas has a latin name is because that's how species are named, and I don't think anyone is supposed to believe the etymology works that way round. When a product is named "Excellium" is named in order to suggest excellence, not to make people think that excellence is named after it. It would be stupid to think so and it is stupid of David Mitchell to suggest it because it is blatantly not the case.

And for the information of David Mitchell Dignitas is a german speaking charity which caters to people of other nationalities and tongues. Having the name Dignitas implies what they offer, dignity in death rather than suffering. A point which he misses especially badly:

But if the clinic wants to say that they'll provide death with dignity, why don't they just name it 'Dignity'?

I don't know, maybe it's because they don't speak english as their native language.

I don't for a moment doubt the agony and sincere desire for death of any of the recently reported cases of assisted suicide. Their circumstances are tragic and I don't begrudge any of those people their hard-won peace. But what they've done is not normal and I wish people would stop going on about it as if it should be.

I agree with Though Cowards Flinch on their criticism of this point, lots of things that humans do is not normal by the standard of other animals. Modern medical technology such as respirators and kidney dialysis machines are not normal. An animal in the wild would die if it became ill enough to require dialysis so why do humans do it. We do it because we value life. It may seem contradictory to say that in a post supporting euthanasia but I believe that it's not, I believe that because there are other things that are valuable. Like freedom of determination and also quality of life. Human beings are set apart to quite a large degree by our highly evolved intellects; we are able to appreciate our lives on a higher level than simply the struggle for existence. If that existence coming to an end in such a way that that end will be more relief than tragedy why should the person not be able to take control of their own destiny.

Furthermore to say it is not normal is absolutely no reason at all to say it should be illegal, having the right to end your own suffering does not take away the seriousness of the act. No-one is saying it should be normal, what they are saying is that cognisant human beings should have the right to determine their own destiny without loved ones being prosecuted for helping them in what is a perfectly legal act in itself.

The main argument cited against legalising assisted suicide is that it may cause people to be put under pressure to end their lives prematurely - pressure, it is implied, that will be exerted by younger relatives who tire of an old person's ill health, moaning, money-hoarding, racism or smell. But I think it's worse than that - I think we'd end up putting pressure on ourselves.

Anyone who plans slightly obsessively - who thinks about packing days before the end of a holiday, puts their coat on during the last scene of a play or leaves football matches early to avoid traffic - is at risk of seeing death, in a society where we control its timing, as merely another job to get done. It's the last thing on the 'to do' list and their organised natures may make them feel duty-bound to 'get it done'.

Earlier on in the article he say's that he "[doesn't] begrudge any of those people their hard-won peace" and yet he seems perfectly happen to demean their choice. By his ridiculous assertion that making assisted suicide legal would put pressure on people to arrange their own deaths simply in order to be convenient he essentially implies that the decision is an easy one. The 100 or so Britons that have so far chosen to end their lives with the help of Dignitas did not do so because it was convenient, it I'm sure that it wasn't an easy decision for any of them.

So quite how it would suddenly be an easy option if it was legal in this country I don't know. He makes mention of the survival instinct in humans, and yet misses the point that it is indeed deep rooted, and simply having the opportunity to choose death does not make death an attractive option. To say that we should deny people the right to choose and force people to endure suffering because of some frivolous idea that it would make death attractive and a convenient way to order your life is ridiculous.

Legalising the right to die would weaken, in some people, the stubborn will to survive which is the cornerstone of our nature. Many would be seduced into finishing life in good order, clearing their desks. Millions of pensioners already dutifully sell their houses, move into care homes and take out insurance policies to pay for funeral expenses: they don't want to be a bother or a financial drain. It's not going to take much to make some of them give everything up - give up - just to be selfless and tidy. Only the selfish and messy will make old bones.

One thing that David Mitchell seems not to understand is that it's already legal and easy to commit suicide, human beings are frail so it doesn't take much to kill yourself. Amazingly enough though despite this frailty suicide is happily still relatively rare. If David Mitchell had stopped to consider that he might have realised that that's because people want to live too much to die. When people choose to end their own lives there is a very strong reason (Be that through physical or mental suffering or through mental illness.) to do so.

Suicide is not something to be taken lightly, and recognising a human beings right to self-determination and the ability to end their own suffering would not make it any less so.

I was very disappointed with this article, I felt that it was puerile and had very little thought put into it. David Mitchell is intelligent enough to do better than this.

My thanks to Though Cowards Flinch for putting me on to this and also for their continued high standard of blogging.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

How many Liberal Democrats does it take to fix a boiler

Edit: In the interests of fairness it should be pointed out that the opinion of Brian Coleman, Conservative chairman of London's fire authority, is not shared by the fire brigade itself:
A London Fire Brigade spokeswoman said: "If it's obvious that there has been an ongoing problem with the boiler, then you can call a plumber.
"But if your boiler suddenly starts making strange noises in the middle of the night, call the fire brigade."

How many Liberal Democrats does it take to fix a boiler.

The answer is none, you just dial 999 and ask the fire brigade to do it.

[The problem with the boiler was described thusly: "The floor was shaking and the noise was so loud it was filling the street," Miss Featherstone told BBC London 94.9]

Believe it or not that is exactly what Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone did, now in London I know it can cost a lot to call a plumber out but do you really think that calling the men with the big red fire engine and the flashing lights is the best way to make sure you have hot water.

Its not often I would congratulate a tory on this blog but Brian Coleman the chair of the London Fire Authority get it right when he said,

"We are not Lynne Featherstone’s heating engineers. There could have been a serious incident somewhere else. It costs £250 per hour for a call out and I look forward to receiving her cheque. She has shown herself to be completely dizzy. Airheads and airlocks are obviously not unrelated."

What do you expect from a Liberal Democrat MP.

PS by the way the London Fire Brigade fixed the problem during the call out so not only do they put fires out but the can make sure the pilot lights are on too :)

PPS a big thanks to Kerron Cross for pointing this one out

A Twist on a Classic Christmas Carol

After Peter posted a news "story" from the Mail I thought I'd keep up the trend by posting something from another group of intolerant loons. Here, via Respectful Intolerance is the Westboro Baptist Church's idea of a carol:

You'd better watch out, get ready to cry,
You'd better go hide, I'm telling you why
'cuz Santa Claus will take you to hell
He is your favorite idol
You worship at his feet
But when you stand before your God
He won't help you take the heat
So get this fact straight:
You're feeling God's hate
Santa's to blame for the economy's fate
Santa Claus will take you to hell.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Anne Begg's Week

[Disclaimer]: Aberdeen University and its blog are not connected to Anne Begg MP in an official capacity. The writers of this blog are solely responsible for its contents, and therefore this blog may not reflect the views or positions of Anne Begg MP. For Anne Begg MP's offical website please go to

One of the main pillars of a democratic community is accountability. It's hard to hold elected representatives responsible if you don't know what they've been doing. To enable her constituents to follow the work she does on their behalf Anne Begg the MP for Aberdeen South posts what she has done each week on her website. I'm pleased to say that we are also able to facilitate the democratic process by cross posting that information here.

Week beginning 8th December – Good news for trawlermen.

I wasn't able to be in the Chamber on Monday for the debate on the Speaker's response to the Police search of an MP's Westminster office as I had to attend a funeral in Aberdeen in the morning. Once I managed to make it down to London I arrived 4 minutes too late for the first vote. I would have made it if BA had been able to get my wheelchair to the aircraft side instead of me having to pick it up off the luggage carousel! Nevertheless, missing the debate didn't get me out of taking part in Radio Scotland's 'Scotland at Ten' programme.

Tuesday and Wednesday are always particularly busy days in Westminster with end to end meetings and events, and this week was no different. A range of different organisations want to lobby MPs either individually or in a group. On Tuesday there was the Communication Workers Union, who wanted to lobby on the future of the Royal Mail and Post Office network, the Big Lottery Fund and Equity on Scottish broadcasting to name a few. Unfortunately, however, I ran out of time so didn't get to meet the Olympic rowers at a celebratory reception being held for them.

I also had meetings of All Party Groups which I sit on, these groups meet to advance a particular issue or support a certain cause, industry or country. Tuesday saw the inauguration of a new one, the Chronic Pain group, and I am its new Chairman. I also had a meeting of another group I Chair, the All Party Equalities Group. With an Equalities Bill announced in the Queen's Speech this group will have busy year. However, on Wednesday it was the European dimension we were discussing with our guest Richard Hewitt MEP.

Wednesday saw the highlight of my week, when Tony McNulty, the Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform, come in to give evidence before my Select Committee. I only managed to speak once in the Chamber this week, and that was also on Wednesday during Scottish Questions. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy MP, about Scotland's future energy needs (you can see my question and the Minister’s reply here).

On Thursday I sat in the Chamber for the statement on Welfare Reform and BERR questions but, unfortunately, I did not get called. This was disappointing as I particularly wanted to congratulate the Minister of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs, Pat McFadden MP, for his decision to rerun the Cod War Trawlermen's Compensation Scheme. While I have over a hundred constituents who have received pay outs from the scheme, there were some who had got very little because they had a break in service through no fault of their own. I have been lobbying the government hard since the Ombudsman ruled this was unfair, so Thursday's news was very welcome indeed.

Friday will be the usual organised chaos with a presentation ceremony for the winners of my annual Christmas card competition in the morning; a meeting with Grampian Society for the Blind; a Christmas carol concert at Hazlehead Primary and then constituent surgeries.

I think it's interesting to note that it seems that even MPs get crap service from airlines. I'd also like express my appreciation of the Labour Government's continual striving for equality, I think the ideal of an equitable society is central to Party and is something we must continue to strive for.

Comment is Free

Over the past while the Guardian has been allowing interested parties to write an article under the headline of comment is free, indeed this blog has featured one already just look here. But today we post another and this time by the wonderful Polly Toynbee and I thank Leslie Kennedy Clark for finding it. So see what you think and start commenting.

A very interesting christmas tree

Ok this may be the only time I ever post about a story in the Daily Mail that I like but this is one of them.

So to the Christmas tree in question here is your first club blog post.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Worst Predictions for 2008

Now I know that not everyone can be incredibly accurate political barometers like we are at the Aberdeen University Labour Club, but some of these predictions are just horribly wrong.

My favourite has to be:

“If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Gore is the only threat to her, then. … Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary. I’ll predict that right now.” —William Kristol, Fox News Sunday, Dec. 17, 2006

Not quite on target with that one were you William. Never mind, I'm sure closer to the time you made better predictions.

After Iowa, Kristol lurched to the other extreme, declaring that Clinton would lose New Hampshire and that “There will be no Clinton Restoration.” It’s also worth pointing out that this second wildly premature prediction was made in a Times column titled, “President Mike Huckabee?”

Or not.

I <3 Jon Stewart

He can be hilariously funny, but at times like this he can also be compassionate and rational. I love the way he just keeps on going back to Mike Huckabee's intolerance but he at the same time he's so polite. I'm not sure I could keep a cool head in the face of such obstinance.

It's a fantastic video and i hope you all enjoy it, I got it from the fantastic ERV. She's an extremely talented young scientist and blogger so maybe if you've got a few minutes free you can go and check out her site.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Human Rights Day/Blogoroma III: Feministing

I don't know how many of you knew it but today was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. If you're interested you can read the declaration in its entirety (Which I recommend as it's a very inspiring document) here.

(Also in Gàidhlig Albanach here and Cesky here.)

I thought that since today is also Blogorama DayTM I would highlight a blog which offered some coverage of the event. It's a bit of a departure from the main focus of blogorama, that is to cover Labour bloggers, but I'm tired and so you'll just have to settle this week for one of my favourite blogs, Feministing.

Feministing is a feminist (Duh!) blog written by a group of very talented young female bloggers. They cover a range of issues related to gender equality and women's rights. What I especially appreciate is their focus beyond their own sphere to look at gay rights and racial issues as well. They are always very frank about some of the more unfortunate issues related to historical feminism, specifically the focus of most feminism being on the rights of white women and ignoring the situation of other ethnicities.

The main author behind Feministing is Jessica Valenti, who as well as being the found of Feministing is also an excellent author. She has released two books on the issue feminism (Both of which I naturally own.); Full Frontal Feminism and He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.

She now has a third book in the pipeline, The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women , which focuses on the US's incredibly creepy "Purity" balls.

If you think I'm being harsh by calling the things creepy you really need to read this quote taken from the article:

But first...a creepy anecdote.

Kylie Miraldi has come from California to celebrate her 18th birthday tonight. She'll be going to San Jose State on a volleyball scholarship next year. Her father, who looks a little like Superman, is on the dance floor with one of her sisters; he turns out to be Dean Miraldi, a former offensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles. When Kylie was 13, her parents took her on a hike in Lake Tahoe, Calif. "We discussed what it means to be a teenager in today's world," she says. They gave her a charm for her bracelet--a lock in the shape of a heart. Her father has the key. "On my wedding day, he'll give it to my husband," she explains. "It's a symbol of my father giving up the covering of my heart, protecting me, since it means my husband is now the protector. He becomes like the shield to my heart, to love me as I'm supposed to be loved."

Paging Dr. Freud!

I think even Freud would be creeped out by that...

Anyway back on topic. They covered Human Rights Day with an article highlighting the work done by human right's campaigners around the world to improve their own communities. I think that that's something we can all appreciate and respect.

From Feministing:

Today is the anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Sixty years on, we pay tribute to the extraordinary vision of the Declaration's original drafters and to the many human rights defenders around the world who have struggled to make their vision a reality.

The Declaration belongs to each and every one of us - read it, learn it, promote it and claim it as your own.

During its "16 Days" series, MADRE, an amazing international women's rights organization, has been posting some great examples on their blog of women around the world who are taking this to heart.

In Kenya, women established a village called Umoja ("unity") where violence against women is prohibited.

In Colombia, in communities threatened by violence from military and paramilitary groups, a group called LIMPAL works to support displaced women and their families.

In Sudan, women have created a farmer's union to allow them to demand government support for their agricultural projects.

It's important to remember that Human Rights Day isn't about calling on other countries to honor basic human rights. It's about working for those rights in our own communities.

There's one common thread that connects these disparate groups of people, and that's co-operation. (I think it links nicely back to the post I made earlier about Unions.) When people work together we can achieve great things, our diverse skills and experiences add up to make an incredibly effective whole, which when channeled in a positive manner can effect great changes and move us towards a more equal society for everyone. That's what makes these community groups flourish, and it's what makes Labour so great.

Unions are a free-market solution

The Questionable Authority (That's the name of the blog by the way.) has a fantastic piece up about the Right's hypocritical hatred of Unions. Here's the start of the piece:

Like most people who pay attention to the news, I've been treated to several weeks of Republicans using the Detroit bailout as an excuse to bash unions. Like a broken record, it was easy to ignore for a while, but the repetitive droning of discredited canards (like $70/hr wages) is getting more and more and more annoying.

And it's particularly annoying because the vast bulk of the union-bashing is coming from the alleged free-market conservatives. What the hell is so conservative about beating up on unions, anyway. Unions are the quintessential model of a market based solution to a problem. The management and the money people might not like them, but that alone doesn't mean they're not a market solution - unless the real criteria for "free-market" is "stuff that makes people who already have money happier".

Yes, I'm serious. Let's take a minute or two to think about what unions actually are, and what they do.

At its most fundamental, a union is nothing more or less than a group of people who have figured out that if they act together to place limits on the supply of their own labor, the businesses that have a demand for that labor will need to pay more. Unions are basically employee-owned businesses that sell labor. Like any good business, they try to both encourage demand and control the supply.

You can find the rest here.

This article is about the US, but it has strong parallels in this country. To see how vilified Unions have been by the Tories you just have to look back to Margaret Thatcher's description of the 1984 Miners' Strike:

As she famously - and controversially - framed the dispute at the time, "We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty."

That's right the democratically elected Head of government directly compared the struggle of workers in this country to militaristic actions of a fascist dictatorship. In this internet age there's a phrase for that.

We have to ask ourselves where this hatred comes form. After all surely it's better for workers to do things for themselves, gain advancement through their own work rather by "Tax and Spend" politics that the Conservative so dearly loves to hate.

We're talking about groups of workers who don't need to rely on any outside assistance, they're standing on their own two feet. Surely the Tories should love them.

And yet they don't.

And it just shows the Tories for what they are. Unions are about societal justice, they work to ensure that the voices of the weak are heard by the powerful. They act to build a fairer job market in which workers don't have to accept whatever lousy conditions their all powerful employer deigns to hand out. And that's what the Tories hate, because in the kind of society that the Unions want to tear down it's the Tories with the money and the power, and that's why they don't want change.

David Cameron recently compared himself to Barack Obama. Well I'll take a leaf out of Obama's speech book; a smug Thatcherite bastard, thant's not change, that's more the same.

Britain doesn't want more of the same, that's why we kicked them out in '97, and if we work hard, and get our message out, we'll keep them out at the next General Election as well.

What the...!?!?!?!?!?!

I hate being angry at a Labour government but crap like this pisses me off.

I especially "love" this bit:

"There is no positive obligation to create a structure for legal recognition or registration of same-sex relationships," it said, claiming that in other countries any such obligation may be out of keeping with the social, cultural and religious norms and traditions.


The protection of the rights of citizens should be one of the main priorities of government. Thankfully they've dropped their challenge, but unfortunately they refuse to support a Europe wide pro-equality stance.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A nice video of Johann Hari taking a slice out of Richard Littlejohn

I think Johann raises a very good point; publications like the Daily Mail that constantly stir up bile against immigrants and Islam and whatever else they happen to hate that week create a climate in which that kind of behaviour is acceptable. Littlejohn's response tells you a lot about the man, he had no arguements with which he could defend himself so he had to resort to being patronising.

This article gives a good summary of quite what makes Littlejohn such an unpleasant individual. It includes this segment which quotes from one of Littlejohn's own columns:

But when another genocide was being perpetrated – this time by black Hutus against black Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 – he wrote, "Does anyone really give a monkey's about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them."

Note the (possibly subliminal) use of the word ‘monkey’. Note the implicit idea that black people’s ethnic identifications are ridiculous – from a man who constantly ridicules the “smelly” French and “dictatorial” Germans.

I find this kind of bigotry disgusting; the fact that he is completely unable to empathise at all with the plight of fellow human beings absolutely appals me. That anyone in modern bBritain could so easily dismiss the brutal murder of over a million and the rape of even more speaks volumes about how far we still have to progress as a society.

Wikipedia has a list of incidents involving him and people who share the same low opinion of him that I do.

Here's another quote from Johann Hari's article:

The brilliant Marina Hyde of the Guardian has helpfully compiled a log of Dick’s references to homosexuality. In 2003, he referred “24 times to gays, 17 to homosexuals, 15 to cottaging, seven to rent boys, six to lesbians, six times to being "homophobic" and four times to "homophobia" (note Richard's scornful inverted commas), twice to poovery and once to buggery. That's a mere 82 mentions in 90-odd columns.” In 2004, he excelled himself, and “referred 42 times to gays, 16 times to lesbians, 15 to homosexuals, eight to bisexuals, twice to "homophobia" and six to being "homophobic" (note his scornful inverted commas), five times to cottaging, four to "gay sex in public toilets", three to poofs, twice to lesbianism, and once each to buggery, dykery, and poovery. This amounts to 104 references in 90-odd columns.”

I think it is an important role of the Labour Party to fight against the casual homophobia that permeates through society. Many times I have heard people casually throw out homophobic slurs such as "poof" or describe someone or something as "gay" if they do something stupid or "unmanly".

The use of slurs creates an atmosphere in which those slurs are acceptable, by doing so it brings violence against oppressed groups closer to the main stream. it is for this reason why we as believers in equality must do more than simply believe in it. We must speak out against intolerance, not just in speeches or at political gatherings but in public and social settings as well.

This recent ad makes the point very well:

(What would we do without Youtube?)