Friday, October 31, 2008

Socialist Youth Network - Stand up for workers rights

Info below from SYN :

The Socialist Youth Network (youth wing of the Labour Representation Committee) are calling on people to come to Westminster on Monday the 3rd November at 6pm to make sure the parliament hears the voices of workers.

MPs will be debating the Employment Bill on 4th November, including amendments to strengthen trade union rights, and New Clause 5 to improve the scope of the national minimum wage for young people.

As the economy tanks, will we let the employers victimise with wage cuts and redundancies those least likely to fight back? How many people will be made unemployed or homeless thanks to the bosses and the government?

As the financial turmoil begins to affect us all, who will bear the brunt of it?
Young workers:
- have worse pay and working conditions than older workers;
- can legally be paid even less thanks to a lower minimum wage;
- are often working in vulnerable employment and frequently are the first to be let go when the employer makes redundancies;
- are less likely to a a trade union member and to know their rights at work;
- are also buried under a mountain of debt if they choose to continue studying after 18.
The only time the government mentions young people seems to be in connection with crime, anti-social behaviour and binge drinking or drugs. In the media, young people are always presented as a problem.

Facebook event here

hope to see people of all ages there!

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Independent Republic of the Canongate

My street the houses in the middle have 9 council flats and are to be demolished by developers, currently lying empty!

I know it is probably obscure for most of you but I want to tell you about another blog - the Independent Republic of the Canongate.

The Canongate is the bottom end of the Royal Mile of Edinburgh and it is where I live. Engels referred to it in The Conditions of the the English Working Class (sic) see here

It is also the same street the Scottish Parliament is on. However it has great working class roots and still the majority of it's inhabitants are still working class despite the right to buy now causing most of the council housing to be left to developers, homes of multiple occupancy and holiday flats.

Developers nearly four years ago called Mountgrange (Caltongate) Plc decided at the council's invitation that the Canongate was not "fit for purpose" and needed developed, they put in a Masterplan application to demolish council housing, an old Victorian school, the bus garage, art centre and the Old Sailor's Ark (a drop in centre for chaotic homeless people).............and build luxury apartments, a 5 star hotel, conference centre, a new civic square and luxury office apartments. The locals, conservationists and a mixture of all types have been fighting the developers and council ever since.

Their consultation was a farce, their behaviour has been a scandal and they have at every hurdle managed to convince the stupid councillors and planners that Edinburgh must have this development - smack bang wallop inside a World Heritage Site.

They did not expect the hositility they got from the community and conservation groups - some of us set up Save Our Old Town in order to fight back this nasty development and try and influence it with better planning ideas. It has been an almost daily struggle, with little resources but we are getting there even if it has taken us 4 years!!!!

We are not against developing the area and have done an alternative stratey including building council homes, an art centre, market place, green space, play space - even allotments and composting. But nothing has been taken into consideration.

All the planning applications have gone through and then.....................the credit crunch!!! Everything appears to have stopped! We have complained to UNESCO and the European Union as well as the Standards Commission and the Scottish Government about the whole process from the land sales to the failing to protect the integrity of the Old Town to lack of community consultation. No avail from the latter two but UNESCO are not coming with a delegation in November 2008 and the EU are looking into our claims that there might have been dodgy off market dealings.

Now the architects involved in Caltongate - Allan Murray, Robert Murphy and Malcolm Fraser are planning an anti- hertitage conference when UNESCO are coming - they want the right to build whatever they want and the right to be greedy - to hell with public opinion and the needs of the community.

Anyway just wanted to tell you about our campaign and the blog www.Independentrepublicofthe

How do communities plan their own communities or atleast not be at the beck and call of evil developers?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How much does domestic abuse cost?

Sylvia Walby (University of Leeds) in September 2004 did some research for the Home Office, the research was to estimate what the economic cost was to have domestic abuse as part of our society and the amounts are staggering. (Because it was the home office I think the figures may just be for England and Wales, which makes the figures even more staggering).

Key findings The total cost of domestic violence to services (Criminal Justice System, health, social services, housing, civil legal) amounts to £3.1 billion, while the loss to the economy is £2.7 billion. This amounts to over £5.7 billion a year. The costs can be broken down as follows:

Criminal Justice System: The cost of domestic violence to the criminal justice system(CJS) is around £1 billion a year. This is nearly one-quarter of the CJS budget for violent crime. The largest single component is that of the police. Other components include: prosecution, courts, probation, prison, and legal aid.

Health Care: The cost to the NHS for physical injuries is around £1.2 billion a year. This includes GPs and hospitals. Physical injuries account for most of the NHS costs, but there is an important element of mental health care, estimated at an additional £176 million.

Social Services: The annual cost is nearly a £0.25 billion. This is overwhelmingly for children rather than for adults, especially those caught up in the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child abuse.

Housing: Expenditure on emergency housing includes costs to Local Housing Authorities and Housing Associations for housing those homeless because of domestic violence;housing benefit for such emergency housing; and, importantly, refuges. This amounts to £0.16 billion a year.

Civil Legal: Civil legal services cost over £0.3 billion, about half of which is borne by legal aid and half by the individual. This includes both specialist legal actions such as injunctions to restrain or expel a violent partner, as well as actions consequent on the disentangling of marriages and relationships such as divorce and child custody.

Economic Output: Lost economic output accounts for around £2.7 billion a year. This is the cost of time off work due to injuries. It is estimated that around half of the costs of such sickness absences is borne by the employer and half by the individual in lost wages.An additional element is the human and emotional cost. Domestic violence leads to pain and suffering that is not counted in the cost of services. This amounts to over £17 billion a year.

Including all costs, the total cost of domestic violence for the state,employers and victims is estimated at around £23 billion.

Of course there are quite a lot of people in employment around domestic abuse in the state and third sector which will have other economic benefits (myself included in this as a Domestic Abuse Co-ordinator) so there will be some negations however the economic costs indicate the pervasive nature of domestic abuse.

If you want to read the whole report you can read it here


Blair doing rather nicely

He may not have really wanted to let go, but it seems there are generous compensations to being an ex PM:

Tony Blair’s earnings since leaving Downing Street are calculated to have topped £12 million, more than six times his previous lifetime income.

The former Prime Minister, who tours the world speaking to audiences including investment banks, private equity firms and chambers of commerce, is now said to be the highest-paid speaker in the world. Since launching himself on the speaking circuit last October, Mr Blair is understood to have earned more from speeches than Bill Clinton, the former US President, did in his first year after leaving the White House.

His choice of clients is interesting:

The Times can disclose that he has become a particular favourite with the Washington-based Carlyle Group. Next month he will address a conference of its European investors in Paris about “geopolitics”. He addressed a similar conference for Carlyle in Dubai in February.

Carlyle Group is a leading private equity investor in the military. Its board has been graced by both Presidents Bush and its former European chairman was Sir John Major.

Carlyle and the Blair Government have a controversial history. The National Audit Office said taxpayers lost millions from the privatisation of spy technology because of Labour’s decision to appoint Carlyle Group as a preferred bidder too quickly.

Any of you thinking he might make a good speaker at your next day school, well he charges an average of £157,000 for a typical speech of roughly 90 minutes. Not minimum wage then.

That's not all :

Mr Blair receives £84,000 of taxpayers’ money to run a private office and is entitled to an annual pension of £63,468, but this pales to insignificance beside his private earnings. He has made £4.6 million from his memoirs, an estimated £2 million from JPMorgan Chase — including bonus — and £500,000 from Zurich Financial

Not for Blair then the worries of job security, negative equity, paying the rent or mortgage and pensions .


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Women and the Economic Crisis

There are many issues for women in the economic crisis that is upon us. It's not that I think that there is particularly a feminist analysis alternative to the Marxist analysis that we need (although there is a need for economic analysis to take account of women's unpaid work). But there are ways in which the crisis will impact on women - primarily working-class women - that we need to prepare for and address.

'Lord' Mandelson has already announced that government plans to extend flexible working rights are on hold because of the recession, his government's generosity to overfed bankers obviously extending far beyond that to hard-pressed working parents. Although this legislation covers both men and women - and as a union rep, I have helped both men and women to benefit from it - the majority of those who benefit are women workers.

Pressure on household budgets is usually pressure on women. Paying bills, getting in the weekly shop, making sure the kids are clothed and the holiday paid for still falls mainly on women's shoulders, so when prices go up and/or incomes fall, it will be mainly women who are expected to work wonders with the balance sheet or to go without.

There are also more women than men who are single parents, who may struggle even more. This will also mean that the majority of parents whose kids risk losing the roof over their head through repossession or eviction will probably be women.

Domestic violence tends to increase during recession. According to a 2004 study by the US National Institute of Justice, women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused. Perhaps this happens because of the stress of unemployment and financial hardship; perhaps because of rows over women's and men's priorities over spending scarce household resources - as Paul Weller once asked, "Do you want to cut down on beer or the kids' new gear? It's a big decision in a Town Callled Malice." (Suggesting reasons, of course, does not mean looking for excuses.)

To add insult to injury, at the same time support services for abused women will find their funding under threat. This is because the state does not provide enough, so many services - such as hostels and phonelines - rely on charitable donations and year-by-year grants, both of which become more precarious as recession bites.

Recession may well lead to attacks on public services - Gordon Brown has to pay for his bank bail-out somehow. Such cuts affect women not just as service users, but as the people who usually pick up the workload of caring for relatives young and old if, for example, playschemes or old people's day centres close down.

It seems to me that because of these issues we might see - and should certainly encourage - working-class women in communities organising against service cuts, evictions, bailiffs and price rises, as well as supporting unions fighting against job losses and for inflation-proof pay settlements.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Diagnosing a Child With Asperger Syndrome

As promised two weeks ago, this Sunday's post on the subject of Asperger syndrome is about the process of getting a child diagnosed.

As we left it on that occasion, Joe's dad and I had a strong feeling that Joe had AS, having become increasingly concerned about his behaviour and frequent distress, and having read this description of Asperger's which very accurately describes Joe.

His teacher (he was in nursery class at the time) also had sufficient concerns about Joe to have filled in the necessary form. One of her concerns was that he flatly refused to join in 'circle time' (the first child in twenty years of the school's nursery to do so!); another was that he frequently mistook excitement for anger in adults - if she praised something he had done, he would flinch as if being told off.

When I said to her, "He's autistic, isn't he?", she was obviously relieved that I had worked it out and she had not had to break this news to me. She then told me that these days, we call it "being on the autistic spectrum".

The next step was to get our GP to refer Joe for diagnosis. This involved attending the Complex Communication Clinic at the Donald Winnicott Centre in Hackney (which has since been replaced by the all-new Hackney Ark). Joe, John and I all spent time with a Consultant Paediatrician and a Child Psychologist (called, ironically enough, John and Janine). They observed his behaviour and listened to lengthy testimony from us.

They then gave him some tests, the nature of which are quite illuminating about autism and Asperger's. It is important to recognise that they judged Joe's responses not as 'right' or 'wrong' but as 'typical' or 'atypical'. Some examples:

  • They asked Joe, "What is a bicycle?". He replied, "Two sticks, two wheels, three seats". (My bike at the time had a child's seat for Joe and a baby seat for his brother Harrison.) Atypical. Most kids would say, "Something you ride", but the Asperger's kid is more likely to see an object in terms of its components rather than its function. Not wrong, just different - and rather handy if you become a bicycle designer in later life, I'd have thought.

  • They asked Joe, "What is an umbrella?". He replied, "A carrot and a plastic bag". Now that's a bit harder to fathom, but as I explained to them later, he had been playing with Sticklebrix a lot lately, often used the long orange one to represent a carrot and the square white one to represent a plastic bag, and used the long orange one and the square white one together to make an umbrella. Logical, but most definitely atypical. Not wrong, but different - but so different that it is barely comprehensible to anyone who does not know the reasoning behind it. So we can see where those communication difficulties might come in.

  • They showed Joe a photo of a boy with a spider landing on his head and asked him how he thought the boy would feel. Joe replied, "Angry". Atypical: most kids say "frightened". But isn't it actually more logical to be angry with a spider for landing on your head than to be scared of a minute creature that can cause you no harm?!
In all, Joe had a general development assessment, play-based assessment and cognitive assessment at the clinic, plus a speech and language assessment and classroom observation at his school. None of these, as far as I can tell, caused him any distress.

By this time, he was in Reception class and had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) - a written plan which a school can give to a child with problems, issues or special needs, with or without a particular diagnosis.

Joe's diagnosis arrived on the day that his dad was elected National President of the RMT, in November 2006. It is an 8-page document describing their various investigations and observations. The key passage reads,

Joe has been assessed formally and informally over time and in different settings. On the basis of the typical developmental history, clinical observation, information provided by his school and formal assessment of language and cognitive skills, it is our opinion that Joseph's difficulties with social interaction, communication and behaviour are best described as being within the autistic spectrum.

His early language development appears to have been normal and on the basis of his current functioning and the absence of a general learning difficulty, we feel that Asperger's Syndrome best describes Joseph's profile within the autistic spectrum.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

This is not an invitation to rape me

Check out the campaign in Scotland organised by the Scottish Government and Rape Crisis Scotland based on a campaign from the States called THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO RAPE ME.

Do the quiz on the web page.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Woolas gets a custard pie in the face

Something to cheer us all up at the end of the week. Simple but effective and apparently vegan .

Perhaps "Question Time" would have been a better option!

Any Manchester comrades have other pics or accounts ?


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Law Lords Crush Chagos Islanders' Hopes Of Return Home

A year and a half ago, I blogged about the Chagos islanders' excellent legal victory in securing the right to go back and live on the islands from which Britain unceremoniously booted them to make way for a US base at Diego Garcia.

But yesterday brought the terrible news that the Law Lords have upheld the British government's appeal, so the islanders remain banished.

What an absolute fucking disgrace.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When The World Falls Apart, Some Things Stay In Place

A couple of vids to mark the sad passing of Levi Stubbs last Friday ...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Happy Birthday To Me

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me-e. Happy birthday to me.

And happy birthday to Attila the Stockbroker.

Happy birthday to Steve Cropper.

Happy birthday to Julian Cope.

And it's Peter Mandelson's birthday too. And Geoffrey Boycott's.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Is there a right to die?

I blogged on this issue in February 2007. I'm reposting it in light of the story about the case of Daniel James, a rugby player who died in a Swiss assisted suicide clinic after being paralysed a year previously. I have mixed feelings as he was young and perhaps over time could have been able to find some happiness and quality of life .A year is not long to come to terms with what happened.

I know its not the usual knock about leftie blog fare, but i'm curious as to what people think.

Yesterday I watched the news about a young woman who wanted to die, as she did not want to live any longer with the terminal illness she has. I then went on to watch a programme about children whose fathers committed suicide.

I wondered whether to post on this. My concerns where that I don’t have any answers only questions and that is after thinking about these issues for most of my adult life. In addition, it is very close to home and it is not possible to discuss these issues without reference to my own experiences. This is also a blog post and not a paper, so I am aware I cannot do any real justice to such a complex topic in this form. I decided though to write something. It won't be objective but it might shine some light on the realities behind a heated but often theoretical debate .

So ok, do I think someone has the right to die? Well yes and no. It depends. People choose to die for many reasons. There is the young woman who is terminally ill and wants to die. I would argue that society should provide the best care possible and support for her family. However, if given all that she still wants to die it is her choice. That is fine though if she can get hold of some tablets and take them. However, what happens if the carer sees this. Should they stop them? What happens if he or she needs assistance in order to die or is asking others to do it?

I think its one thing to do yourself, another to ask a loved one to stand by or to help you. If it was possible to ensure there was no abuse whatsoever and the person was making a free choice and had capacity then there is an argument that a loved one could assist or at least not stop them. Trouble is how to put safeguards in place. Should doctors assist? There role is to save life not end it.

Concerns highlighted by those opposing assisting someone are that doctors will decide who lives or dies; the worth of a life. Other risks are that relatives may decide and that it is not the person choosing. Alternatively, that it is convenient in an age of limited resources to help people to die.

Is it possible to have safeguards and to meet these concerns?

Moreover, what about the reality for those caring for the person. I faced this with my mother. She probably would have lived a while longer but she refused treatment and hardly ate during many months in and out of hospital. Doctors and nurses tried to convince her. Psychiatrists assessed her and found she had capacity to make those decisions. They accepted that whether they agreed or not with the decision it was hers to make and she understood the implications. I tried to persuade her to live. However, consistently over six months she said she had had enough. It was not a lack of resources as she had a place with lots of support where she could live.

Did I think she was perhaps confused, would change her mind given that the physical problems were not enough to kill her if she accepted treatment, there was nothing terminal. I looked at what she was saying and what she had always said to me. Over the last few years her mobility was poor and she could do less and less. She had support but she did not want a life where she needed people to help her do the things we take for granted. She did not want the intrusion into her life. She was in pain and she gave up. Give up, that implies weakness. She never gave up in her life, when many others would have. However, she had always said to me she did not want to be ‘poked and pushed around’ and if she were ill, she would rather go. To many it would not make sense. To her a life where she was in more pain, struggled to get around and needed help was not one she wanted. However much the care and support was adapted to try to make it better she was determined to die. I do not believe that was giving up though.

However, that is the point. We all have different bars for what we consider a quality of life. Some may be able to live dependent on others and face great pain and disability, others not. We all may have different points when we feel, that is enough, no more. Others of course may want to live whatever pain or illness they have and still find pleasure in life, right to the end fighting to stay alive.

That is why this is so difficult. It is different for all of us. My mum was determined and stood her ground against doctors, and me, trying to persuade her otherwise.

I had to try to change her mind, but I also accepted her strong views and her rights.

And that brings me on to the TV programme about children. One person’s decision to die has an impact on those they love. The children in the programme had all lost a father to suicide. Many said they felt guilt or responsibility, another phrase was if he loved me how could he do it. This was painful to hear as my father killed himself when I was 16 and those were my thoughts then. Now 27 years later I can rationalise that of course, it was not my fault and yes he loved me but he was ill. Those thoughts though never go away. He thought I would be better off without him. Wrong of course.

So does someone with not a physical but a mental and emotional pain have a right to die? Again, I would argue that everything should be done to help the person. Much of the pain is caused by our society. However, let us deal with what we have and not how we want the world to be. So given the world as it is then, as much help as there is should be given.

Sadly however much someone is loved and however much help they are given its not always enough. I do though think that if someone is trying to commit suicide there is a responsibility to try to stop them. I suppose I believe this more strongly when it is mental pain and anguish because that can change. Mental states can fluctuate and if someone can be helped through the worst, they might stay alive.

Of course, the difficulty is reaching someone when they are that depressed or determined to die. I have since talked to people who are suicidal, through my work, and they are not able to see they will be missed or are of any worth. I also believe that if someone is determined they will do it and the term a ‘cry for help’ makes me angry. Yes it may be but that does not mean the person is not really intending to die. My father made numerous attempts before he succeeded.

His right, as those of the fathers remembered in the Channel Four programme, conflicted with the hurt to the children and loved ones left behind. At times I feel angry at what he did, not hanging around to watch me as an adult. The mindset of the person cannot see past the act, they cannot allow themselves to think about the consequences.

I was pleased to see some support for the children. When I was a child there was none and there was a stigma associated with it. I also chose who to tell about his depression and death. It certainly can cut a conversation dead when asked about my father to tell the truth, yep my father killed himself .

When someone chooses to die people judge those around them. If they are physically ill they perhaps wonder if the loved ones just wanted an easy life and to get rid of them. Did they actually choose or did the relative ‘help’ them. If it is a physically well person then people wonder what went on in that family? Oh it must have been the wife, did not support him or ‘drove’ him to it. As a child, you feel all eyes on you as people wonder.

These are my thoughts.
No easy answers and lots of questions and conflicts of interest.



Sunday, October 19, 2008

Did Asperger's Turn Nicky Reilly Into A Bomber?

I had promised for today's weekly blog post on Asperger syndrome an article about the process through which a child is diagnosed. But the news has intervened, so that article is postponed to next week.

This week, I'm wondering what readers are thinking about the news that Nicky Reilly has admitted to a failed Islamist bomb attack in Exeter, and has Asperger syndrome. I'm concerned that this may open the door to some ignorance and panic about Asperger's. On the other hand, perhaps it is an opportunity to correct some prejudices.

The BBC claims that Nicky's mum reckons that Asperger's left her adult son with a 'mental age' of ten. It seems to me that either the BBC is misquoting her, or society has failed to support and educate Nicky's mum about her son's condition. Read further into the case and you will find that Nicky - who took the Muslim name Mohammad Rashid Abdulaziz Saeed Alim - has a learning disability as well. Asperger's is not itself a learning disability, and would not leave anyone with a 'mental age' of ten. (I'm leaving aside for now whether 'mental age' is a useful concept anyway.)

Plenty of credit is due to his mum, who explains her son's vulnerability, questions why no-one else has been held accountable for his actions, rightly says he should not be in prison but receiving care, and pledges to always be there for her son.

Asperger's could well make someone more vulnerable to getting involved in something like Islamist suicide bombing, partly because the tendency towards obsessive interests may take an aspie deeper into a subject than others, and partly because aspies can be more likely to accept what they are told literally. But before anyone gets into a panic that the thousands of people with Asperger syndrome are wandering around ready and willing to be made into suicide bombers, they should remember that the vast majority of people who get involved in the reactionary, murderous, jihadi bombing plans are neuro-typical. If you want someone to blame, blame the jihadi movements, and blame the oppressors and warmongers who drive people into their arms.

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Republicans showing what pleasant tolerant people they are ...not

If only to piss off these bigots, I'll be pleased to see Obama beat McCain:

Hat tip to Hakmao and Will.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Off Sick

To excuse my lack of indepth, intellectually-stimulating blogging around this time, and to satisfy any gore-enthusiasts amongst you, a little medical update ...

On Wednesday, I had surgery on my right eye, resulting in the very attractive visage pictured here. The eye - which completely lost its ability to see when struck by a rocket firework three years ago - has been losing volume, meaning that it, and its accompanying falsie, would gradually sink back into my head. So to prevent that happening, I had an implant put in the day before yesterday. This was an hour-long surgical procedure under general anaesthetic, involving some of the content of my eye being scraped out and an artificial thingy being put in to bulk it up.

The main post-op dangers are infection or rejection. So I'm on a cocktail of two types of antibiotic tablets, one antibiotic ointment, two painkillers, one anti-inflammatory, and a weird-tasting liquid that counters the constipating effect of one of the painkillers. I'm also dozing for most of the day, and am posting this during one of my brief visits to the land of wakefulness.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Abortion Rights - Protest 21st October

Below is some info I have been sent about the demo ahead of the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill on 22nd October:

Tuesday 21st October - 5.30pm onwards
For a woman's right to choose
Emergency protest to show the strength of pro-choice opinion ahead of the final abortion votes in Parliament

Old Palace Yard, outside Parliament, St Stephen's entrance

The protest has been called to oppose further anti-abortion attempts to drive back women's fundamental rights and support the first Parliamentary opportunity in a generation to improve the law for women and extend rights to Northern Ireland.

All pro-choice supporters welcome!
Please bring your friends, colleagues and banners

It has now been confirmed that the final votes on abortion at the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will take place on 22nd October. The votes are expected in the afternoon. This protest has been called at short notice to ensure that MPs and the media feel the strength of pro-choice opinion ahead of these crucial votes. Please encourage your trade union, women's group, student union or other organisation to come along.

Despite a strong vote in Parliament against restrictions in women's abortion rights on 20th May 2008, anti-abortionists will try to impose 'cooling off' delays, counselling on women and severely restrict the grounds for requesting an abortion.

40 years after the enactment of the 1967 Abortion Act, women need improved rights to end current widespread obstruction and delays when accessing services. We are supporting the calls of women in Northern Ireland for rights to be extended there.

Write to your MP
If you haven't already, now is the time to write to, email, phone or visit your MP in advance of the vote on 22nd October. A model letter and information on how to identify and contact your MP is available on the campaign website

I attended the meeting at the House of Commons the other week and its crucial we support the amendments to improve access and remove the obstacles for women. It was made clear that the ability to add positive amendments to a Government Bill doesn't come along very often . Also if the next House of Commons does have a Tory majority , or at least more of them, its highly likely rights will be under further attack given how the parties tend to vote on this issue.

Do please contact your MPs and argue both for the defence of what we have and the positive amendments. There is more info on the Abortion Rights site about the amendments.

I also received this e mail update :

There are rumours that the Government are proposing to table a Programme motion which will mean that it is highly unlikely for none of the positive pro-choice amendments can be discussed. It is very urgent that the unions (and union’s members) lobby the Government not to do this. Any press and publicity that can be created would be very welcomed.

So even more important to keep the pressure on.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Constance Markievicz: a life

As promised, here are my biographical notes on the 'Red Countess', Constance Markievicz, prepared for the London Socialist Feminist Discussion Group on 10 October. I have also posted them on the Workers' Liberty website, where you can download two one-page files giving a timeline of her life.

Constance Georgine Gore-Booth was born on 4 February 1868 at Buckingham Gate in London, the elder daughter of Arctic explorer and adventurer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, 5th Baronet, and Lady Georgina née Hill.

Sir Henry was an Anglo-Irish landowner, and the family lived on the estate of Lissadell in the north of County Sligo in the West of Ireland. Unlike other landlords, he was ‘enlightened’: for example, in the 1879–80 famine, Sir Henry provided free food for tenants.

Previously, there had also been a severe famine in 1845-9. Three decades later, in the 1870s, a land war raged between tenants and farmers, with the Irish National Land League – which campaigned on behalf of tenants, against evictions – had 200,000 members.

Constance and her younger sister, Eva Gore-Booth, gained a deep concern for the poor. But poor and working-class people do not need charity and ‘concern’ from the rich – the best a rich individual can do is come over completely to the side of the workers, which is what Constance went on to do. But not yet.

Eva became politically active first, moving to England (Manchester), where she was a lifelong suffragist and socialist along with companion Esther Roper.

The sisters were childhood friends of the poet W. B. Yeats, and influenced by his artistic and political ideas. Later, Yeats wrote a poem, In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markievicz.

The 1890s saw a movement for Gaelic cultural revival. In 1893, the Gaelic League formed, the first nationalist society to accept women on the same terms as men. The Celtic Literary Society, Irish National League and others excluded women.

Constance decided to train as a painter (something she has in common with Sylvia Pankhurst), but at the time only one art school in Dublin accepted female students. So in 1892, she went to study at the Slade School of Art in London. There, she became politically active and joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Later, she moved to Paris and enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian where she met her future husband, Kazimierz Dunin-Markievicz, Count Markievicz, a Ukrainian aristocrat of Polish ethnicity. In 1901 they married, and Constance became Countess Markievicz. She gave birth to their daughter, Maeve, at Lissadell shortly after the marriage. The child was raised by her Gore-Booth grandparents and eventually became estranged from her mother. Constance also undertook the role of mother to Nicolas, Kazimierz's son from his first marriage, and was very close to him.

In 1903, the Markiewiczes settled in Dublin in 1903 and moved in artistic and literary circles.

In 1905, along with others including John Butler Yeats, Constance formed the United Artists Club. Through this, she met leading figures in the Gaelic League, and met other republicans.

In 1906, she rented a small cottage outside Dublin, and read old copies of The Peasant and Sinn Féin, left behind by the previous tenant.

In 1908, the Irish Women’s Franchise League set up by Francis and Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington.

Also in 1908, Sinn Féin was founded. Although it was not anti-feminist, neither was it actively pro-feminist. Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith was disinterested in feminism and hostile to the labour movement – he called for the 1913 Dublin strikers to be bayoneted.
In 1908, Constance joined Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann ('Daughters of Ireland'), a revolutionary women's movement founded by the actress and activist Maud Gonne in 1900. Markiewicz came directly to her first meeting from a function at Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland, wearing a satin ball-gown and a diamond tiara.

The same year, Constance played a dramatic role in the women's suffrage campaigners' tactic of opposing Winston Churchill's election to Parliament during the Manchester North West by-election, flamboyantly appearing in the constituency driving an old-fashioned carriage drawn by four white horses to promote the suffragist cause. She had plainly not yet broken from her upper-class background!

In 1909, she founded Fianna Éireann, a para-military organisation that instructed teenage boys in the use of firearms.

In 1911, the Countess as jailed for the first of several times, for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration attended by 30,000 people, organised to protest against George V's visit to Ireland.

In 1912, the Sheehy-Skeffingtons launched the Irish Citizen, a suffrage weekly; and the Irish (Home Rule) Party voted down Conciliation Bill which would have given limited suffrage for women. The main party of Irish nationalism, it was forcefully anti-feminist.

The Dublin Lockout

The big turning point for Constance Markievicz was the 1913 Dublin lockout, in which she threw in her lot with the workers.

By 1913, Jim Larkin’s Irish Transport & General Workers had 10,000 members, and had won significant improvements for workers.

Larkin was a union organiser, who had worked in Liverpool then Belfast then Dublin. He advocated women's rights, and with his sister Delia, established the Irish Women Workers' Union in September 1911.

The other leading figure of Irish labour movement was James Connolly, who had founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896. He wrote that, "The worker is the slave of capitalist society, the female worker is the slave of that slave", and was widely recognised as a champion of women's rights. The Sheehy-Skeffingtons described Connolly as "the soundest and most thoroughgoing feminist among all the Irish labour men".

The labour movement’s male leaders were noticeably more pro-feminist than other political leaders.

On 2 September 1913, more than 400 firms, working together through the Employers' Federation, announced a general lockout of workers. They issued workers with a statement to sign, pledging to resign membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (or never to join it) and to obey all instructions from their bosses.

Countess Markievicz ran food provision for locked-out workers at Liberty Hall, union HQ. But it would be wrong to assume that women only played this sort of supportive, backroom role. On 13 September, a women workers' demonstration marched to Inchicore, site of a tram garage which was a Larkin stronghold, held up tramway traffic. Women also took an active part in mass pickets and demonstrations.

Constance also joined the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a small volunteer force formed to defend demonstrating workers from the police. In the ICA, women and men drilled together, unlike in the Irish Volunteers, a similar force set up by non-labour movement republicans.

In late October, social worker and feminist Dora Montefiori suggested the kids of locked out workers go to stay with supportive families in England. The Catholic Church denounced the plan for fear of the children's religion being undermined. Archbishop Walsh attacked the mothering qualities of women who were prepared to allow their children to be cared for in England. Priests seized children from the Corporation Baths where they were being washed in preparation for their departure, and each evening, priests led many Catholics in pickets of Dublin Quays.

A special TUC conference voted down a proposal for sympathetic strike action by British workers. Many analysts at the time and since have blamed this decision for the eventual defeat of the locked-out workers.

Also in 1913, Kazimierz moved to the Ukraine, and never returned to live in Ireland. However he and Constance continued to correspond and Kazimierz was present by her side when she died in 1927.

In 1916, Constance Markievicz was made an Honorary Member of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, when the union and the Irish Citizen Army presented her with an address commending her relief efforts during the Lockout.

Biographer Levenson argued that "it was during this struggle that Constance learned from James Connolly that national freedom would be worthless without the overthrow of the exploiting class."

Constance was by this time living in Surrey House in Dublin, which she used as an organisational base for campaigners in the labour, suffrage and republican movements.

Easter Rising and Prison

The next major event in Constance’s political life was the Easter Rising.

In 1914, the leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond, declared his party’s support for Britain in the War. Anti-war republicans planned attack on British rule.

By late 1915, the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) was planning an uprising. The IRB had been founded 1858, and was also known by the name of its American branch, the Fenians. It was a highly secretive organisation which excluded women. James Connolly joined them in planning an uprising.

The Rising began Easter Monday 1916. The rebels read out a Proclamation on the steps of the General Post Office, which had been seized as the headquarters of the rebellion. It was addressed to "Irishmen and Irishwomen", and claimed "the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman"; it declared the intention to establish a national Government for the Republic of Ireland, "representative of the whole people of Ireland and elected by the suffrages of all her men and women", with "equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens".

Constance was a member of the ICA, and very close to its founder James Connolly. She designed the ICA’s uniforms, composed their anthem, a Polish song with changed lyrics. Markievicz held the rank of an officer, making her a decision maker, and giving her the right to carry arms.

The picture of the involvement of women in the Rising is as follows. In the Citizen Army, there were two women commissioned - Constance Markievicz and Dr Kathleen Lynn, medical officer. Nine women were involved in the attempted capture of Dublin Castle. Thirty-four women took part in the occupation of the General Post Office. A party of Cumann na mBan women were stationed in Jacob's. During the Rising, 77 women were arrested and five women interned.

Lieutenant Markievicz was second in command to Michael Mallin in St Stephen's Green. She supervised the setting-up of barricades as the rising began and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen's Green, wounding a British army sniper. Inspired by newsreel footage from the Western Front, they initially began to dig trenches in the Green. British fire from the rooftops of adjacent tall buildings, including the Shelbourne Hotel, though, convinced them of the folly of this tactic, and they withdrew to the adjacent Royal College of Surgeons.

Mallin, Markievicz and their men held out for six days, finally giving up when the British brought them a copy of Pearse's surrender order. The English officer, Captain Wheeler, who accepted their surrender was a relative of Constance.

She was taken to Dublin Castle, and from there to Kilmainham Gaol. The prisoners were jeered by crowds as they were walked through the streets of Dublin.

Constance was the only one of seventy women prisoners who was put into solitary confinement. She was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison on "account of the prisoner's sex." She told the court, "I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me".

16 men - including James Connolly - were executed by the British. These executions began to turn the tide of opinion towards the rebels.

Constance was released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising, as the government in London granted a general amnesty for those who had participated in it.

Around this time, she converted to Catholicism, having been born into the Church of Ireland.

In 1918, Constance was jailed again for her part in anti-conscription activities.

Election and beyond

In the 1918 general election, Constance was elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick's, one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs. She was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons (NOT Nancy Astor as many believe), but along with the other Sinn Féinners, refused to take her seat in a Parliament whose authority over Ireland they did not recognise.

Instead, she took up seat in Dáil Éireann, the unilaterally-declared Parliament of the Irish Republic. In 1921, she was re-elected to Second Dáil.

From April 1919 to January 1922, Constance served as Minister for Labour, making her the first Irish female Cabinet Minister (there would not be another until 1979) and the first female Cabinet Minister in Europe.

In January 1922, she left the government with Éamon de Valera and others, opposing the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She fought actively for the Republican cause in the Irish Civil War helping to defend Moran's Hotel in Dublin. After the War, she toured the USA, fundraising for the republicans. Because of these activities, she was not elected in the 1922 General Election.

In 1923, she was elected for Dublin South constituency, but did not take her seat. The same year, she was imprisoned again for Republican activities, went on hunger strike with 92 other female prisoners, and was released within a month.

In 1926, Constance joined Fianna Fáil on its foundation, chairing its inaugural meeting in La Scala Theatre.

In the June 1927 general election, she was re-elected as Fianna Fáil candidate, but died five weeks later, before she could take her seat. Constance died aged 59, on 15 July 1927, in Sir Patrick Dunn's Hospital for the poor in Dublin, possibly of tuberculosis (contracted when she worked in the poorhouses of Dublin) or complications related to appendicitis. Her estranged husband and daughter, and her stepson, were by her side. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. Éamon de Valera, the Fianna Fáil leader, gave the funeral oration.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Asperger Syndrome: To Diagnose Or Not To Diagnose?

A while ago, I was asked for my thoughts on whether parents who suspect their child may have Asperger Syndrome should get him/her diagnosed.

This was a little startling to me, as it had never crossed my mind not to seek a diagnosis for Joe as soon as I had grounds to suspect he had Asperger's. We had been concerned about certain aspects of his behaviour for some time, in particular how readily he became distressed and sometimes violent, and how very reliant he was on routines. Scouting around for answers, I came across this on the National Autistic Society's website. It describes Asperger's, and it describes Joe as accurately as if it knew him personally. It seemed the most obvious thing in the world to seek an official diagnosis.

A year and a half later, being asked to discuss whether to seek a diagnosis provoked thoughts I hadn't even considered, but at the end of the thinking and discussing, I am as convinced as ever to recommend to any parent in this situation that yes, you should seek a diagnosis.

Here are some good reasons why. You, your kid, your other kids, their school, and others in his/her life would have an explanation as to his/her behaviour. You gain an insight into how your kid sees the world. This firstly puts a stop to unhelpful labels of 'naughtiness' or 'anti-social behaviour' or what have you, and secondly can give you and others - such as siblings - a shedload more patience when unpleasant behaviour kicks in. And it prompts you to learn more about Asperger's and develop strategies to deal with it.

'Dealing with it' is not the same as 'treating' an illness. It means adjusting your family's life a little - for example making family routines more predictable - and helping your kid understand the world and learn those social skills that Asperger's kids don't pick up in the everyday course of life.

To do this, you need to learn about Asperger's and autistic spectrum disorders. Read stuff, go on the 'Early Bird Plus' course that we found very helpful. Spend time with child psychologists and others who can explain. And seek out the views of aspies themselves. Look at more radical analyses of autism and challenge the more conventional or negative ones.

So getting a diagnosis for Joe has enabled us to better understand his behaviour and needs. It has also given us access to various support (though not enough!), including such things as referral to the fantastic, inclusive Evergreen Adventure Playground. It may give you access to certain financial and other benefits eg. Joe's after-school club fees are waived because his consultant wrote a letter to say that it is in his clinical interests to attend, we have applied for Disability Living Allowance, and we will soon apply for a Blue Badge.

A diagnosis allows us to apply for flexible working whatever age he is, a right that would otherwise have expired when he turned six (last January). And it gives Joe - and, thanks to a recent European ruling, us - some legal protection under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The diagnosis led to Joe getting a Statement of Special Educational Needs, after an admittedly uphill battle about which I will blog soon. And the Statement should ensure that he gets into the secondary school of our/his choice - very important, as he will be able to go to a school that meets his needs, and one near home so that he does not have to travel miles to school each day. Our two nearest secondary schools are massively over-subscribed, so this is a big weight off my mind.

Some of these would not be factors if government policy were better or society were organised differently. For example, every child should have the guaranteed right to a place at their nearest school, and should not need a Statement in order to queue-jump. After-school clubs should be free to all kids. And flexible working legislation should extend to all workers with caring responsibilities, including all those with dependant kids of any age, special needs or not. But that is not the reality now, and in any case, the other factors still stand.

Of course, the other reason to seek a diagnosis is that your child might not have Asperger's, and you wouldn't want to work to the assumption that s/he had if it weren't the case, and perhaps miss out on addressing other issues or conditions that might need addressing.

I should stress that the decision for an adult about seeking a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome is probably very different; but when your kid is 4, you make the decisions - and this is one I have never regretted.

Next Sunday: What getting a diagnosis actually involves.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Channel Four asks ...Is Mark Fischer the next Lenin?

Watch Mark being a media tart...

Oh and Martin Smith , but he is just dull .

Hat tip :David Broder.

Yep, the left is fucked.


Sarah Palin found to have abused her powers

Gosh darn it :

The running mate of US Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been found guilty of an abuse of power, according to a state legislature probe.

Alaska's Governor Sarah Palin was accused of sacking a senior state official over a family feud.

"I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110 (a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act," investigator Steve Branchflower concluded in the panel's 263-page report.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Talking About The Red Countess

A quick reminder that yours truly is leading a discussion about Constance Markiewicz, the 'Red Countess' at the London Socialist Feminist Discussion Group this evening, 7.30pm, Lucas Arms, Grays Inn Road, King's Cross.

All - men, women and anoraks - welcome.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Diary dates

First off the big fight this Sunday. Whilst capitalism falls (OK, stumbles ), various sad leftie anoraks will be packed into the Lucas Arms to watch Sean Matgamna and Moshe Machover slug it out. I don't expect anyone to change their view point , as Dave says:

On a related note, here's four things that are frankly unlikely to be said at the said meeting:

* 'OK, we'll just have to agree to differ on that one.'
* 'Well, I have to admit that our paper got the line on [insert issue] totally wrong in [insert date].'
* 'I'm speaking as a member of the International Bolshevik Tendency. But if want to know what I really think on this one, well, personally ...'
* 'Why can't we all, y'know, just share the love?'

For those of you with nothing better to do the details are :

Sunday 12 October , The Lucas Arms, 245a Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, starting 5.15pm.

I'll be there as its Dave's idea of showing me a good time.

Oh and apparently its going to be filmed and put on the Internet. Who knows if there is demand it may end on up DVD, the ideal pressie for the really sad, though I don't want it in my xmas(fishnet) stocking !

I still think a cage fight would settle this once and for all!

For those of you wanting a calmer debate the Left Economics Advisory Panel (LEAP) are hosting an emergency summit :

'Who Pays for the Credit Crunch?' on Monday 13th October at 7:30pm in Cm Rm 10 of the House of Commons.

Speakers include Brian Caton (POA), Jeremy Dear (NUJ), Kelvin Hopkins MP, John McDonnell MP (Chair), Mark Serwotka (PCS), Prem Sikka (Professor of Accountancy, University of Essex), Graham Turner (author of 'The Credit Crunch').

More details on the LRC website, plus links to debate and papers on the left response .Also on the LEAP website.


Banks Bailed Out

As I gazed blankly at the newspaper front pages while swaying under a grab rail on the Tube yesterday morning, they all seemed to headline on the extraordinary bail-out of the banks. Except for The Sun, whose 'Mother Of All Council Houses' lead story berated a single mum who apparently gets £170,000 in benefits and lives in a rather large house. This is presumably because she has lots of kids and is in very great need. But hey ho - the government gives £400,000,000,000 to banks because they got themselves in trouble, but The Sun thinks kicking a claimant is much more important.

Read that figure again: £400,000,000,000. Wow, that's a lot. If I had more time, I'd work out how many hospitals, schools, jobs, homes, kidney transplants, teachers, youth clubs, public transport services and other useful things that could buy. The comments box welcomes any such stats. The point is not just that the government should spend such money on this thing rather than that thing, but that it says that the public purse "can not afford" the socially-useful stuff, but obviously can afford the bail-out.

Such a comparison is both easy and necessary to make. It's the sort of thing we lefties regularly say about wars too. But it is only ever half an argument. If the spending is justified then it's justified, even if there are other deserving causes that the cash could have been spent on. But is this justified, especially in the detail of how it is being done?

£50,000,000,000 is going on 'recapitalisation', buying 'preference shares'. This means that the government buys shares in the bank, which will bring back dividends, but I can see no guarantee that the return will be more than the interest that the government is paying on the loans it is taking out to buy the shares in the first place. Moreover, preference shares carry no voting rights, so the government may have taken 'part-ownership', but it is part-ownership with no control. If this is nationalisation, then it is not as we know it.

There are belated pledges to ensure that the begging bankers do not line their pockets on the back of the 'rescue plan'. But we must await the detail, and there is little comment on the wodge that already lines their pockets.

The buzz words include 'shoring up' and 'stabilisation', suggesting that the main motivation is to 'normalise' capitalism to a steady state, to recover from the recent binge of 'excessive risk-taking'. But although the risk-taking has fallen flat on its face, it was not excessive in the context of the capitalist system itself - it was normal behaviour for capitalists, operating in a system that not only encourages but relies on this sort of thing. Capitalism does not need normalising, it needs superceding. The job of socialists, of working-class representatives, is not to stabilise capitalism but to expose and replace it, and in the immediate, to defend workiing-class interests, to make sure that those who made the mess clear it up. Or, as Edgar Lansbury put it in the 1920s, to compel capitalism to maintain its victims.

If this is not done, then we can be sure that it will be working-class people who will foot the bill sooner or later. If the £200,000,000,000 government under-writing of inter-bank lending has to be shelled out ie. given to one bank because another goes bust and defaults on the loan, then that is £200,000,000,000 lost to the public purse. That's a lot of higher taxes and/or service cuts.

So what does the left propose? Before this week's developments, the SWP was touting its 'People Before Profit' charter, which I would have had to oppose if it had come up in the RMT, because it would have shifted the union's policy significantly to the right. Hopefully, they will quietly drop that now (even more hopefully, the SWP will account for their mistake, but that really would be a triumph of optimism over experience).

The Left Economics Advisory Panel (LEAP), promoted by the LRC, proposes the following:

LEAP has also put forward its own strategy: A People's Programme for the Crisis – which was launched with John McDonnell's letter in today's Guardian:

We are calling upon the Government to implement a people's programme to protect our people from the crisis not just the bankers, including:

1) nationalising the banks and establishing democratic control over banking decisions, ensuring democratic representation on boards, ending the bonus binges, controlling executive pay and share holder rewards;

2) Cutting interest rates significantly and immediately, restoring democratic control over key economic decision-making by not only widening the remit of the Bank of England beyond ensuring price stability to advising on the wider economic health of the country but also reverting the bank's role to being one voice amongst many others to be taken into account;

3) Securing people a home by converting repossessions to social rentals so that people have a 'right to stay' in their homes and embarking on a massive council house-building programme;

4) Enhancing security in employment by ensuring people have a say over the future of the companies by strengthening rights and representation at work;

5) Bring fuel bills under control with price controls on the consumer price of gas and electricity, so that people are not being forced to choose between heating and eating this winter, with the threat of nationalisation if needed.

That's OK as far as it goes. But it's a disappointment that point 5) avoids advocating - merely threatening - that the utility companies be brought back into public ownership. If you want to control the prices, then the best way is to own the company! "If needed"? Self-evidently, it is needed. Moreover, other privatised industries, such as the railways, should be brought into public ownership, under demoncratic workers' and users' control.

We should also explicitly say that the nationalisation should be without compensation except on the basis of proven need (which would include, for example, ensuring that people dependant on the investing pension funds do not lose out).

Point 3) should add that homes left empty by landlords should be taken over by local authorities and made available for rent. And that the government policy to make council/social housing rents harmonise with private sector rents ie. be determined by a landlord-controlled market, should be rescinded and housing made genuinely affordable.

Point 4) should also be strengthened with a call for a much higher minimum wage, the scrapping of the public sector pay freeze, and the nationalisation of any companies that threaten job cuts.

To tackle unemployment, there should be a legal maximum working week of say, 35 hours, with no overtime and no-one losing pay as a result.

It has also long been a staple of the left to call for 'public works' to prevent unemployment. In the 1920s, this meant road-building and electrification, but I think we've moved on from that now! However, there is a clear social as well as economic need for, say, more teachers, nurses, other health workers, youth workers, railway staff and others - as well as the builders implied by LEAP's point 3) - and the government should set about recruiting and paying them properly.

Finally, a call to tax the rich and big capital is noticeable by its absence from LEAP's list.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Brown "Putting the band back together"

A Labour source said yesterday: "We are expecting Alastair to return for next June's elections and to work on the general election. With Peter Mandelson back on board, we are putting the band back together."

Yep, first Draper, then Mandelson, rumours about Blunkett and now a guest spot from Campbell.

All that is missing is Brown's Glimmer Twin, Blair.

As with all good, and bad bands,expect lots of fall outs if not trashing of hotel rooms . This comeback is after all more Spice Girls than Led Zeppelin.

Update : On the reunion front some good news, Dire Straits are not reformimg. Before Dido and James Blunt, back in the old days I really hated that band. Sultans of Swing...arghhhhh...


Monday, October 06, 2008

The Rev Mr Mullen warns against deadly blow jobs

If you were the Chaplain at the London Stock Exchange (pictured) you would think you had plenty to deal with, what with all those City Boys crying into their cappuccinos at a Chelsea Starbucks . But no, nothing stops a god botherer getting all in a tizz about what people, and specifically those who are lesbian and gay , do in bed. It really does still surprise me. Why do they care?

This particular Chaplain has been blogging and some of his Internet rants have echoes of the Nazis; tattoos on buttocks and faces anyone? The Telegraph reports :

The Rev Mr Mullen said in an blog that homosexuality was "clearly unnatural, a perversion and corruption of natural instincts and affections" and "a cause of fatal disease".

He recommended that homosexual practices be discouraged "after the style of warnings on cigarette packets".

He wrote: "Let us make it obligatory for homosexuals to have their backsides tattooed with the slogan SODOMY CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH and their chins with FELLATIO KILLS."

In an earlier posting, the Rev Mr Mullen, who is also rector of St Michael's Cornhill and St Sepulchre without Newgate in the City, wrote a poem about the blessing of two gay priests by the Rev Martin Dudley.

The poem begins: "The Bishop of London is in a high huff, Because Dr Dudley has married a puff; And not just one puff - he's married another: Two priests, two puffs and either to other."

It concludes: "Of such Dr Dudley a goldmine has found, From shaven-head puftas the nuptial pink pound.

"The new Church of England embraces diversity, A fresh modulation on ancient perversity."

The Bishop of London condemned the postings, which have since been taken down, as "highly offensive".

A spokesman said: "While clergy are entitled to their own personal views, we recognise that the content of this text is highly offensive and is in no way reflective of the views of the Diocese of London."

The Rev Mr Mullen, 66, who has written a series of books including The Politically-Correct Gospel, was summoned for a meeting with church officials on Friday and told he could face disciplinary action.

And what is the Rev Mr Mullen's response to criticism? Well some of his best friends are gay and we need to get a sense of humour:
"I wrote some satirical things on my blog and anybody with an ounce of sense of humour or any understanding of the tradition of English satire would immediately assume that they're light-hearted jokes. I certainly have nothing against homosexuals. Many of my dear friends have been and are of that persuasion. What I have got against them is the militant preaching of homosexuality."

Oh dear. all the old favourites . Gays and deadly diseases, get a sense of humour and of course the army of militant queers trying to convert the innocent. Oh and whats his problem with fellatio ? It kills ?? Someone ought to explain about safe sex and HIV/Aids unless he knows something the rest of us don't about the deadly power of a blow job!

Update : More people the Rev doesn't like. Check out a post on New Humanist that includes his views on Muslims . Here is a snippet :

"[They] certainly lend themselves to ridicule: sticking their arses in the air five times a day. How about a few little choruses, 'Randy Muslims when they die/Find 70 virgins in the sky'?"


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Autism, Asperger's and Special Talents

My son Joe and his dad have just set off to go to the 'Autism and Music' concert at the Savoy Theatre. It is being promoted by the Autism Research Centre, which is based at Cambridge University and headed up by Professor Simon Baron Cohen, who popped up on BBC News 24 to outline its purpose today.

Prof BC explained that most people hear about the difficulties associated with autism and Asperger's Syndrome, including social and communication problems, and obsessions. But the obsessions can also give rise to particular talents, which apparently cluster around music, art and maths. So the idea of the concert - and of an arts exhibition starting at the ICA tomorrow - is to show this more positive side of autistic spectrum disorders.

Good stuff. But I was also impressed by Baron Cohen's balance, as he made sure that he acknowledged also that life on the autistic spectrum can be hard. "Everyone with a diagnosis of autism and Asperger's suffers in some way: that's why they have a diagnosis", he said, but went seamlessly into an asserting that the condition can bring strengths and talents as well as obstacles.

Unlike illnesses, such as cancer, our approach to autism is not just about finding a cure, but about working out interventions that can help overcome the difficulties without diminishing the strengths.

A word of warning, though - don't expect everyone on the autistic spectrum to have some stunning talent. They are not all about to burst into scintillating music, produce a stunning piece of art or juggle numbers like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman. And if they don't, they are not letting the autistic side down. Neither are they in any more need of a cure than those who do - they are in need of a society that accepts their neurological difference and deals with it.

So here's hoping that Joe and John have a good time tonight - and that the music isn't too loud, as hypersensitivity to loud music is a trait of Joe's Asperger's. As is a love of music, an endless enthusiasm for producing works of art, and a confident ability with numbers.

Meanwhile, there is obviously a way to go in educating away prejudices about autism and Asperger's. This article on Times Online tries to explain some of the positive aspects of autism, but still manages to call it a disability, a disease and an affliction. Thanks, but no thanks.

Big thanks to Ben for the tickets.

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Palin spoof

A bit of light entertainment for a sunday . I found this spoof of the Couric interview via Jim J on facebook:


Friday, October 03, 2008

Mandelson and Blair (the other one) ,comings and goings

A very quick post as don't have time for any thought on this, so treat it as an open discussion.

First off Sir Ian Blair has gone. Any thoughts on this? Do we applaud Boris (nah)? Shouldn't Ken have booted him out rather than back him? Will this impact on the De Menzies inquest ?

Back again like a bad penny, a blast from the Blairite past . Yeah, Mandelson is back! Hmmm, given he and Brown don't get on whats all that about then?

I'll catch up later on the informed witty thoughts of readers of this blog.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why Do Banks Go Bust?

It's all in the nature of capitalism, of course. It may be a bad time for the economy, but it's a potentially great time for the Marxist critique of capitalism: high time to dust itself down and spruce itself up for the extra attention it's getting. It's a bit like the way that sports shops sell more tennis racquets during Wimbledon, I guess.

Still, more needs to be said than "It's all in the nature of capitalism, of course." So here is an attempt at a little more detail on 'why banks go bust'.

The essential 'nature of capitalism' that we are talking about here is that capital does not sit still. If you get a twenty quid shopping voucher for your birthday, it might sit in your wallet for a couple of months before you get round to spending it. But capital? Oh no. A capitalist who gets twenty quid - or twenty thousand - will immediately find a way of selling it on for twenty-five. Then investing that twenty-five to turn it into thirty-five. Then placing a bet and making it fifty. If it doesn't do this, then it's just not capital.

The daily business of banks is to take your money and try to turn it into more money (giving only a small portion of the extra, if anything, back to you). As soon as you give them your money, they do something with it - they don't just put it in a securely-locked vault. So while a bank nominally holds a certain (very large) amount of money, it actually doesn't: most of it is out in the world trying to make itself bigger. The law obliges banks to physically hold a certain amount of their deposits just in case you want your own money back, but that amount is 'calculated' pretty much by guesswork, and is only around 7%.

During 'good times', that may not be a problem, because the chances that a significant number of us will walk into our branch and empty our accounts is minuscule - and even if we did, the bank would deal with it by borrowing from another bank. Lending between banks is such an everyday occurence that there is an established interest rate for it: the LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate).

It all helps the banks pursue their goal of sending out as much of their (or your) money as possible out into the world to make itself bigger, while keeping as little as possible in their vaults.

But 'good times' don't last for ever, as the manic drive of capital to bring ever-greater returns can over-stretch itself.

The additional factor in the current crisis is the behaviour of mortgage lenders, particularly in the USA. They bundled together mortgages into groups containing loans to both reliable and unreliable repayers, called them 'securities' and sold them. The banker who buys it wants nothing other than to sell it on for more money. Then it gets sold on again and again. Of course there is a risk involved: perhaps no-one wants to buy it for more than a particular banker paid for it; perhaps some of the borrowers start to default because they can no longer afford to keep up their repayments. In that case, the banker will have lost the bet. So what do they do? Insure themselves against bad investments - and then you have another piece of paper, the insurance policy, that can be sold, then sold on, forever in pursuit of making more and more money.

The banks have also made the situation more unstable by various sneaky ways of under-cutting the 7% rule, for instance by setting up dodgy subsidiaries.

The securities, insurance policies, 'derivatives' - all pieces of paper to be traded in pursuit of money-making - become more and more complex, more and more numerous, and change hands more and more quickly. It becomes a bit like a hyper-charged balloon-blowing competition: everyone wants their balloon to get bigger and bigger, and then one bursts. Then the other blowers panic, and balloons start popping all round the room. Mortgage borrowers default; savers wtihdraw their deposits; banks stop lending to each other; banks go bust. Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Belgium's larget bank Fortis, Lehman Brothers, IndyMac, Washington Mutual, ... Some predict that half of the USA's banks may go bust.

These bankers may have failed - although most have walked away with more hurt to their pride than to their personal wealth - but they did not act irrationally within the logic of the system itself. If you want to win the balloon-blowing contest, you keep blowing. It might pop, but then you just walk away.

It is the capitalist system itself that created this crisis: a system based not on organising production of goods and services to meet human need, but on capital relentlessly trying to make more.


Dates for your diaries

Round up of events coming up.

The HFE Bill

A reminder that next Tuesday is "For a woman’s right to choose:
Campaigning to defend and extend women’s abortion rights in the final stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill," a meeting at 7pm at the House of Commons. More info here plus links.

There is also an opportunity with the HFE Bill to push for improved rights for women.
Please lobby your MP to support:

· New Clause 1 - to remove the two doctor requirement
· New Clause 2 - to allow nurses and midwives to administer early abortions
· New Clause 30 - to extend abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland

Its about time we pushed for more rights instead of letting those anti abortionists set the agenda.

Jean Charles de Menezes Inquest

Do check out the blog set up to cover the inquest for updates and reports.

Support at the inquest is welcomed. There are details about what is being covered each day and details of how to get to the Oval and the procedure for getting tickets.

SYN Rally: Public Services Not Private Profit

17th October

7pm at ULU, Malet Street, London

Speakers include: Ross Marshall (RMT Young Member), Hazel Rees (NUT Young Member), Wes Streeting (NUS President)

See Public Services Not Private Profit for details and other events

Stand Up for Your Rights Festival

18th October

2pm-8:30pm, Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Road, London, SE1 7AA

A one-day event organised by A World to Win. The historic struggle for rights in Britain will be presented through music, drama, poetry, films and political debate.

Confirmed speakers include Bill Bowring (Professor of Law at Birkbeck University), John McDonnell MP (LRC Chair), Global Women's Strike, Coalition for Independent Action, Paul Feldman, Kevin Smith (Carbon Trade Watch), John Stewart (HACAN), Rahila Gupta (Southall Black Sisters), the Gypsy Council, Ted Knight.

LRC Conference 2008: The Future of the Left

15th November

10am-5pm at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL (nearest tube: Holborn)

Speakers include: Tony Benn, Brian Caton (POA), Katy Clark MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jeremy Dear (NUJ), John McDonnell MP, Elaine Smith MSP, Matt Wrack (FBU), plus international guest speakers.

More details at the LRC website.

LRC LGBT Caucus: Conference for LGBT Liberation

29th November

debates / speakers / politics / workshops / film / art

10am-4pm at ULU, Malet Street, London, WC1. Sponsored by CWU. More details soon.