Thursday, October 30, 2014 

Prohibition still not working, still set to endure.

There's been much in the way of celebratory noises today following the publication of the Home Office study comparing how other countries fight, or rather don't, the war on drugs.  In one of those wonderful examples of a report just confirming what you already knew, it concludes there is no obvious correlation between a punitive approach and lower overall drug use.  Indeed, while drug use in Portugal has fallen since decriminalisation, it has risen in the Czech Republic, where more draconian legislation was introduced in 2010.  Who would have thought?

Except, oh, everyone.  Let's not mince words here.  Politicians have known for decades that prohibition doesn't work.  While the modern approach in this country can be linked back to the panic over heroin use in the early 1970s, coinciding with the Nixon administration's beginning of the crusade against drugs (more than somewhat based around Nixon's conspiratorial belief left-wingers were trying to destroy the right and society itself through promoting "homosexuality, dope, immorality in general"), let's not forget the lesson of that great American experiment from 1920 to 1933.  Quite apart from the inherent stupidity of making something illegal that you can easily brew yourself with ordinary household items, as prison inmates have been doing with little more than apple cores and orange skin since time immemorial, it resulted in the further rise of organised crime.  Back then it was the likes of Al Capone who benefited; now, if you so wish, you can go and see how the Mexican drug cartels operate.  Just be advised you need a strong stomach.

When the Graun nevertheless urges politicians to study the evidence, the leader writer does so knowing full well they have.  It's why politician after politician has come out in favour of liberalisation - after they've left office.  Nor is the refusal to consider decriminalisation all down to fear of what the tabloids will say, as Tony Blair proved when he took the baby steps of ensuring cannabis was downgraded as the Advisory Committee urged and the licensing laws were reformed.  Come the coronation of Gordon Brown, one of his first acts as prime minister was to suck up to Paul Dacre by upgrading cannabis to Class B again.  Blair more often than not led the tabloids, whereas those who've followed have done the opposite.

Is the tide beginning to turn?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, the weight of evidence is becoming too overwhelming to ignore.  Yes, the Sun, apparently sensing a wind of change (to mix metaphors) now joins the Graun in saying the status quo is not an option.  Yes, the legalisation of cannabis in some American states as well as decriminalisation in Uruguay is as the report itself recognises the kind of development that attracts and interests in equal measure.  All this seems encouraging, until that is you remember that we're still in 2014 criminalising the possession of plants which have "mild stimulative effects", as the coalition has done with the ban on khat.  Then you realise that alongside the warm words of Norman Baker on moving towards decriminalisation, the same report advises putting restrictions on head shops and internet sellers of "legal highs" while possession will remain legal.  Baker apparently wants these shops reduced to selling Rizlas; no word on whether bongs would also be allowed.  Where then exactly will people get their still legal for personal possession highs from?  The same person or sites retailing the illegal stuff, perchance?
 

Forgive me then if I don't get too excited by all this.  For the Lib Dems it's obviously been alighted upon as something that might just get a few of their former supporters to return to the fold, and in truth they deserve credit for continuing to push for change.  When though the first response from a prime minister who previously wanted to liberalise drug laws is to resort to the "sending a message" argument, and the Labour frontbench accuses the Lib Dems of wanting to solve "a problem that doesn't exist" it's still going to be years, if not decades, before we have laws based somewhat even slightly related to the evidence of harm.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014 

I didn't know.

Art critics say porno's easily obscene / Late Show retards, Dice Clay's true poetry

At times, as anyone who really knows me is all too well aware, I give in to my worst instincts.  I've never been shall we say convinced by some of the motives behind the Everyday Sexism project, which to me has at times come alarmingly close to suggesting there are no circumstances in which it is ever OK to give someone a compliment, at least without it being misconstrued or taken as evidence of that person's latent misogyny.  Reading Lindy West's column in the Graun last week, in which she related how twice women sitting near to her in a coffee shop were approached by creepy older men trying desperately if obliquely to get into their pants, I felt the bile rising.  I had never experienced anything like she was describing happen.  It's true I've also never patronised a Starbucks in my life, but I would have noticed if it went on in similar places and situations.

So I asked an American guy I've talked to on IRC for over a decade now whether it could be this is more of an American thing.  Yeah, it's a real problem, he said.  His girlfriend worried about going out alone as some men were so creepy, and he linked me to this piece on Jezebel, written by a woman told to her face by the man harassing her it was her fault for being pretty.  Her fault for having the nerve to be attractive in a public place.  A man, who, for whatever reason (perhaps he'd had a terrible day; perhaps he'd tried the same "what are you reading" approach before and it had either worked or rather, had never worked and so released all his pent-up anger and self-pity in this almost empty train against this woman who dared to tell him to leave her alone; or perhaps, and this is the most likely explanation, he was just an entitled prick of the highest order used to getting what he wants), took it upon himself to terrify someone he had just met simply because she wanted to read her book in peace.

Except it obviously isn't just an American problem.  When someone captures over 100 examples of harassment, from sustained, aggressive following and invasion of personal space to less troubling but still unwanted remarks in just 10 hours of filming, as Shoshana B Roberts did just walking around New York, somehow resisting the urge to tell these man children exactly what they could do, it touches a nerve.  It touched mine.  I honestly didn't know.  I really didn't.  No, I don't suppose it's this bad universally; on a couple of occasions I have seen women being harassed in a similar fashion, and once I did check if the victim was OK, telling her how those who'd catcalled and then insulted her were arseholes, as if she didn't know.

It poses a whole number of questions.  Do these men really not know any better? Are some of them, while undoubtedly frightening, otherwise harmless, as the guy asking whether he's "too ugly" might be, apparently oblivious to how it's what he's doing rather than his looks that make him unattractive?  Moreover, is it really so difficult to look, as men (and women) always will, without passing comment or going out of their way to make that person feel uncomfortable?  I don't doubt some long-term relationships have begun due to chance encounters, an especially flattering compliment or just chatting someone they meet on the street up on the off chance; there's a way of going about it though, and let's not pretend the vast majority want any more out of it than the (extremely remote) possibility of a quick fuck.

Just as pertinent is how it puts or should put silliness like this into sharp relief.  We are once again in the season of gesture poppytics, when almost everyone put in front of a TV camera has to be wearing one, regardless of whether they want to or not.  Little things like how this completely dilutes the meaning of remembrance are cast aside, lest the Daily Mail start whining again or what used to be the red ink brigade start complaining about lack of respect.  Perhaps both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband really are feminists, but is David Cameron, despite what he's said in the past?  I'm not a feminist and wouldn't pretend to be, regardless of how my politics overlap with most of those who identify as such, mainly down to how modern identity politics seems more concerned with arguments over privilege and who's the most oppressed than with doing something about it.  This kind of hashtag style activism is at best false and at worst encourages further cynicism about people's motives, and also seems meant to catch those already deemed to be the enemy out, as the Sun has previously with Ed Miliband failing to pose with a Help for Heroes wristband.

As couldn't be made clearer by Hollaback's video, we really do need feminism.  We also need men, and yes women, who know friends who've acted similarly to those in New York to make clear just how upsetting such behaviour can be.  By contrast, what we could really do without are the sweeping generalisations of some of those who really ought to know better.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014 

The pull factor.

A few years back now, an enterprising individual with a paint can took it upon himself to daub "KILL ASYLUM SEEKERS" in 2 foot high letters on a wall close to where I worked.  It took the best part of a month before anyone saw fit to cover it over.  How and why this person chose asylum seekers specifically as the focus of his passive aggressive ire rather than illegal immigrants say, or a defined ethnic minority has always stuck with me.  After all, it's a lot harder to argue against providing someone fleeing persecution with sanctuary than it is to oppose economic migration, legal and illegal.  Hence why the tabloids got into so much bother with the countless pieces on "bogus asylum seekers", their attempt to fight back against a loaded term with one of their own.  The PCC was forced into recognising there could be no such thing as an "illegal" or "bogus" asylum seeker, only those whose applications had been rejected and so were "failed" asylum seekers.

In all likelihood, the person responsible wasn't specifically offended by the idea of states being required by international law to provide sanctuary to someone who asks for it, and whose case is found to be legitimate.  He just hated immigrants, regardless of their merits or demerits.  Our politicians, by contrast, don't hate asylum seekers; they just either don't care, or rather, care only about the resources they use and the responsibility they have to look after them, especially in the face of public outcry.

One approach by which they try and evade responsibility is that old favourite, blaming everyone other than themselves.  Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, might as well have been quoting from a years-old think piece in the Express in her evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on why it is so many migrants continue to try to get to Britain rather than seek asylum in France or work there.  Bouchart claimed those camped out in Calais aren't asylum seekers, and yet when challenged by Ian Austin on why they couldn't then be deported as illegal immigrants, said she was in dispute with the French government over the matter.  All the talk of the "pull factor", of migrants being attracted by the benefit system, of the UK being a "soft touch", all was to distract from how the French have never cared about asylum seekers, genuine or otherwise, trying to get to Britain through French ports but obviously can't admit as much, and second, how France is so poorly regarded that many of those fleeing persecution want to stay anywhere but there.

There are many reasons other than ones to do with our famously generous welfare state for why those wanting sanctuary aim for Britain rather than elsewhere in Europe, and they're pretty much the same as why others choose to head for Sweden or Germany rather than ask for asylum in the first European country they enter.  Real pull factors are relatives, or friends who've previously made the journey, as little as stories of friends of friends of friends.  Long established communities of ex-pats are known about and play a similar role.  Then there's language, culture, the way countries have an image whether accurate or not, and knowledge of economic success.  There's a reason why Australia continues to attract migrants and asylum seekers despite its hardline approach to both, whereas a country like Japan which on the surface ought to be similarly regarded doesn't.

The fact is facts don't matter.  Politicians don't really believe funding search and rescue operations encourages other desperate people to pay traffickers to get them into Europe, as they aren't that stupid.  The idea someone weighing up whether to flee Syria, Iraq, Libya or Eritrea is going to be put off by the Italian navy not being there to save them should their boat sink is patently, insultingly absurd.  Nor is it about money.  Both ourselves and the French for instance had no problem in finding the cash to bomb Islamic State in Iraq, just the latest self-defeating measure in a whole line of policies connected with Syria and Iraq.  Rather than try to bring an end to the civil war in the former, we lined up behind rebels it quickly transpired could not overthrow Bashar al-Assad.  Despite our role in fomenting the conflict, with millions of Syrians displaced, the only European nations to go beyond platitudes have been, again, Germany and Sweden.

It isn't that politicians are heartless, inhumane or morally bankrupt either.  Rather, the sad thing is they're just going by what they hear.  People don't care that hundreds, almost certainly thousands of migrants are drowning every year while trying to reach Europe's shores, or if they do, it's because they're angered more isn't being done to keep them out, to remove those "pull" factors.  The only surprising thing is we've reached a point where another excuse wasn't found as to why EU-wide funding isn't going to be made available, and this was presumably only down to how the Home Office thought they had cover due to it being agreed by a group of foreign ministers.  The contrast between the current attitude and that of Sir Nicholas Winton, celebrated today for making the arrangements that allowed 669 mostly Jewish children to escape from occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939, could not be more stark.  Then too sanctuary to those escaping conflict was opposed and demonstrated against.  That we haven't truly moved on from those times ought to challenge more consciences than it apparently does.

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Monday, October 27, 2014 

Enoch: "I misspoke".

Despite being dead for 16 years, Enoch Powell has surprised politics by admitting that he was "careless" in his notorious "rivers of blood" speech.

"I used words I wouldn't have normally," said the reanimated former Ulster Unionist MP.  "To be frank, I misspoke."

"Looking back now, there are many obvious problems with my oration.  For instance, I quoted an unnamed man, who said "in this country in 15 or 20 years' the black man will have the whip hand over the white man" .  Quite apparently, those were my views, and I shouldn't have tried to hide behind someone else in such an intellectually dishonest manner.

"Also, in quoting Virgil from the Aenied, who wrote of the "river Tiber foaming with much blood", I wore my past, that of a professor of the classics, rather heavily.  I was posing as the prophet, expecting riots, perhaps almost hoping there would be.

"You'll have noted that despite these qualifications, I haven't actually stepped back from anything I said at the time.  As I don't regret it for a second.  The lesson is clear: you can say the most outrageous things so long as you use language carefully.  Michael Fallon's real mistake was in mixing his metaphors: how on earth can a place be swamped as well as under siege?  As for his past reference to Bryony Gordon as a "slut", he ought to have referred to her as "not being known to express prejudice".  Unlike myself.  Ha ha."

In other news:

Faceless McNomark, the TV executive behind this year's smash hit fly-on-the-wall documentary Just Take a Gander at These Feckless Cunts, has defended the show amid continuing protests at the filming of two follow-up series.

"They assume we have malign intent, when we don't," the indignant McNomark told me.  "There isn't an agenda.  Just because we suggested the documentary was going to be called "Community Spirit" doesn't mean they have a right to complain.  Indeed, what they're calling for is nothing less than censorship.  I will never relinquish our right to take advantage of and completely fictionalise the stories of some of the most distressed parts of our society."

Due for broadcast in January and March, Why Aren't You Stringing These Scrounging Bastards Up Right Now? and Filthy Fucking Pikeys: Over Here, Taking Your Jobs promise a new paradigm in current affairs programming.

In short:

PM in security scare: proves the prime minister needs more security, say security experts
Media obsessed with Russell Brand, complains everyone over the age of 10
Media not obsessed enough with Russell Brand, complains Russell Brand
War in Afghanistan draws to a close - sequel expected in 2017

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Friday, October 24, 2014 

Restless city.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014 

Extremely loud and incredibly close.

John Harris is without a doubt one of the best political commentators we have.  Unlike many of the others with a column and their name in a large font, he bothers to respond to the keyboard hammerers below the line, and he really does go beyond, indeed anywhere but Westminster.  Just though as not getting out enough leads to losing touch, so too can travelling to wherever the next by-election is being held make you think the hot topic of the moment is the most important issue in politics outright.  Add in a straw man, and you pretty much have his piece for the Graun today.

To say I'm bored out of my mind by the immigration debate in general doesn't really cover it.  It's taken the place of the Iraq war in being constantly talked about without anyone ever making an original point or changing their position.  These are the facts: despite claims to the contrary, we've been having a debate about immigration for over half a century now.  Yes, there have always been some people who've shouted racist whenever the topic is broached, mainly for the good reason that up till relatively recently the majority of complaints about immigration, rather than being couched in economic or social terms, were based around skin colour or culture.  This is to simplify massively, but Steve Bell captured how far we've come in his cartoon from last week: we've moved on from the days of "if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" to "if you want a fruit picker from Romania for a neighbour, vote Labour".

Next, Labour did not try and transform the country into a truly multicultural society through immigration, as those who can remember back to the times when it was asylum seekers rather than eastern European migrants who were regarded as the biggest problem facing the country will know.  The mistake in 2004 was not realising the effect opening the borders to A8 states would have, especially when only Sweden and Ireland similarly didn't impose further restrictions.  Even fewer Poles speak Swedish than English, hence why so many journeyed here instead of to Stockholm.  Lastly, as it bears repeating, it's now almost been a decade since the Conservatives under Michael Howard used "it's not racist to impose limits on immigration" as a slogan.  Ever tighter limits have since been imposed, except of course when it comes to the EU.

Harris's piece could have almost been in response to my post on Tuesday.  He was though most likely thinking of the works of either Polly Toynbee or Richard Seymour, aka Lenin from the Tomb.  Without referring directly to Harris, Seymour has since tweeted this poll finding, which does rather underline his point.  No, people's worries and fears about migration writ large aren't racist, bigoted or down to prejudice; are however some of those fears at their most base down to as, Seymour puts it, entitlement and chauvinism?  Well, yes.

That topsy-turvy poll finding by ComRes does in its own way sum up the immigration, even the Europe debate in microcosm.  Do we still want the undoubted benefits of being in the EU, that past waves of immigration have brought here?  Certainly.  Are we as keen on the impact on public services, on how towns like Wisbech, Peterborough and Boston have been altered, and just how swift the pace of change has been?  Not so much.  At the same time, the poll makes clear those most concerned about immigration are extremely noisy, as a solid 36% still accept freedom of movement within the EU.  As Flying Rodent has argued, concern about immigration is one of the relatively few areas of public opinion which is pandered to.

And it hasn't worked, for the reason it hasn't addressed the fundamental right of freedom of movement, as politicians haven't had the guts to make the argument for why it's one of the few areas of EU policy they ought to be able to agree has been a success.  Chris answers Harris's question of whether free movement has been of most benefit to capital or labour, but that obviously isn't going to convince the people he's been listening to.  What might, and is something Westminster politicians have shied away from as it would reduce their control is, as we now know to a fair extent where the most pressures have been put on public services and housing, the targeting of extra funding to those areas.  This, finally, does seem to be where Labour is moving towards, with Ed Miliband today setting out 5 points around which an immigration bill from his government would be based.  We can quibble about the rights and wrongs of preventing migrants from sending child benefit and child tax credits back to their home nation when Brits working abroad can do the same, but if it helps to staunch public concern then so be it.

If some of the left has been blasé about migration, as Harris puts it, the reason is precisely because of the way we've arrived at this point.  Yes, public concern about immigration has been high in the past, and is high now.  Where though did the current mood have its roots, and is it all about migration or rather migration becoming the rallying point for a whole other myriad of concerns?  Easily forgotten is the way panic was whipped up last year over the looming ending of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians coming here, with the media all but joining UKIP in predicting a movement similar to that of post-2005.  It didn't happen.  What did happen is the economy continuing to recovery, albeit without a similar recovery in living standards, the former leading to workers in western rather than eastern Europe looking for jobs further afield.  The fault is not with the migrants, but with the joint failings of late capitalism and politicians both here and in Europe.

For all the insults and asking of what the "modern left" would do, Harris himself doesn't offer a solution other than restricting free movement, despite how this both isn't going to and shouldn't happen.  We could start with being straight with the public rather than continuing to lie to them.  Who knows, it might just begin to have an effect.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014 

So damn easy to cave in.

Pressure is once again growing on ministers over their latest choice of candidate to lead the inquiry into historic child sexual abuse.

It had been thought all sides would unite around the appointment of the Witchsmeller Pursuivant, known for his long record in uncovering paedophiles, including in cases where there was no record of the guilty so much as having contact with a child.  "He's completely unbiased," said a ministerial source.  "Every single person he has accused has been found guilty, as proved by their failure to pass ordeal by water.  You can't get more unbiased than that."

Campaigners have since discovered however that Mr Pursuivant is a 10th cousin, thrice removed of Lord Brittan, bringing his objectivity into question.  The Witchsmeller denies ever meeting Lord Brittan, but admits he cannot guarantee having never been within 10 miles of the former Conservative home secretary, the latest stipulation asked for by MPs and lawyers.

Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, was scathing of the choice of Mr Pursuivant.  "How many more times does this government intend to choose establishment figures who are unable to prove they are sufficiently removed from Lord Brittan?  That he can't account for every single one of his movements over the course of the past 45 years simply isn't acceptable.  I don't know what world these people inhabit but where I come from you know if you're within 10 miles of a lizard in human skin.  You can smell them for a start."

Asked who he would like to chair the inquiry, Danczuk had the answer.  "There is only one man for the job.  I realise Geoffrey Dickens has been dead for 19 years, but that doesn't mean he can't be channelled by a medium, one suitably removed from Leon Brittan, obviously.  His spirit would also be able to answer questions over the contents of his dossier as no one else could.  The fact he was vehemently opposed to the occult poses a problem, I'll admit, but it shouldn't be insurmountable.  I'm sure he'll understand."

Should Pursuivant be forced to stand down, he will join Lady Butler-Sloss, Fiona Woolf, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Will.i.am, Jeremy Irons, Sara Payne and Chris Hansen, all of whom have been appointed only to then resign.

In other news:
Ched Evans speaks - "It wasn't rape, just a light sexual assault, and I apologise for my infidelity"
Meghan Trainor withdraws All About That Bass from sale, apologises for pretending to be African-American
Man kills everything

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