Saturday, September 24, 2011

A uniform ideal

In the light of the post I wrote a few months ago about negative attitudes towards older parents, I was interested to spot that YouGov had conducted a poll asking people when the best age to have children is.  The results are far starker than I would have expected -

Best age for women to have children :

Under 20 - 1%

20-24 - 18%

25-29 - 56%

30-34 - 17%

35-39 - 1%

40+ - 0%

Best age for men to have children :

Under 20 - 1%

20-24 - 7%

25-29 - 42%

30-34 - 36%

35-39 - 5%

40+ - 1%

Now, admittedly, there's a world of difference between asking people what the best age to have children is, and what would be a perfectly reasonable age. And bearing in mind that women's fertility tends to drop significantly from the mid-thirties onwards, it's no great surprise that most respondents plumped for somewhere between 20 and 34 as the ideal. But even so, the extremes of those figures look creepily "North Korean" to me - 0% and 1% for age ranges in which lots and lots of people routinely have children? To put it in perspective, about 20% of babies are born to women over the age of 35, and about 3% to women over the age of 40. For men, the figures are a good bit higher than that.

It's a pity YouGov didn't probe the underlying reasons for this extraordinarily uniform rejection of the older (and indeed younger) age ranges, by testing perceptions of the challenges faced by parents of different ages.

Accents have consequences

Interesting to read Mike Small's speculation (taking his cue from Angus Macleod) that David Tennant might have a leading role in the No campaign during the independence referendum. As you might know, I'm a great fan of both Doctor Who and Tennant, but if he did end up fronting some kind of all-singing, all-dancing 'save the union' campaign, I fancy there'd be one rather problematical question he'd find himself faced with again and again -

If Scotland is such a "valued partner within the United Kingdom", why was it not considered possible or desirable for you to retain your Scottish accent while playing the Doctor, especially since your predecessor Christopher Eccleston was perfectly able to use his own Lancashire accent?

The Doctor is, after all, from Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, not from inner London, so a Ralston accent would have been just as appropriate as the Mockney one Tennant adopted for the part. Paradoxically, there's been much more of a Scottish element to the show since the moment Tennant left.

Relax : inequality isn't an equality issue

A number of years ago, I discovered that because of my dual nationality, I was required by law to register with the American military in case there was another Vietnam-style draft. This was something I wouldn't have had to do if I was a woman. Of course, at the time, it was the idea of getting my brains blown out (to use the Blackadder term) for a country I'd never even lived in that irritated me considerably more than the inequality issue, but the latter point didn't go unnoticed all the same. It wasn't a big deal in the end because there was never any real danger of being conscripted, but there are of course a number of Western democracies in which conscription is routine, and which operate a discriminatory policy between the genders. One of them is Finland, and if the translations in this not-so-old article are accurate, some of the 'non-justification justifications' for upholding that discrimination in a supposed age of gender equality are truly wondrous to behold -

"Finland’s Minister for Equality Affairs Stefan Wallin (Swedish People’s Party) says that he does not want to change the current system, even though he understands “that not everyone feels that it is equal if an obligation applies to only one gender.""

Ah, not everyone feels that is equal, do they? I wonder if the (now former) Minister for "Equality Affairs" could explain in plain language how anyone in their right mind could possibly conclude that such a state of affairs is in any reasonable sense of the word "equal"?

“What would be the alternative? This requires a broad-based approach. I have pondered this as both the equality minister, and as a captain of the reserves, and the present system is the best that is available.”

Yes, what could possibly be the alternative, Stefan? It's a real poser, there's no denying it. Now let me see. How about this - either conscription is made compulsory for both genders, or for neither. Or, if there is some kind of mystical perfection to the current numbers, there could be a lottery under which exactly 50% of all men and women are randomly conscripted. That took me all of five seconds.

“The country’s security, and the coverage of state expenditure can never be based on voluntary contributions. The state needs taxes to be paid by everyone, and military service from men.”

Hmmm. I wonder if "not everyone" would agree that the above statement is entirely fair and equal. After all, I would think it was quite unfair if a politician was to say "the state needs military service from everyone, and taxes to be paid by women", but then maybe I'm just weird.

"Arto Satonen (Nat. Coalition Party), the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Equality, also does not see military discrimination against men as a problem. “There is no point in making this an equality issue. National defence is more important.”"

OK, so now it is indeed "unequal", but that's not a "problem". Do you know what I'm beginning to suspect is the real problem here - appointing so many flippin' militarists as spokespeople on "equality". It's the rough equivalent of appointing Sir Peter Tapsell as Minister for Women.

"Minister of Defence Jyri Häkämies (Nat. Coalition Party) takes the same view. “I have not noticed widespread support for the equality point of view, so we will continue on the basis of the present model.”"

So now equality doesn't matter a damn as long as politicians don't "notice" the majority of people actively supporting it? Heaven help minority groups if that's the guiding principle in Finland.

"Häkämies and Wallin would be ready to send draft letters to women, to inform women about their option of military service. However, both ministers would keep women’s military service voluntary."

Oh well, say no more, chaps. Who needs equality before the law when you're perfectly prepared to write to women to helpfully remind them that they alone have the right to choose?

The article concludes with two comments by feminists, which can only be described as weasel words -

"The chairwoman of the Feminist Association Unioni, Henna Leppämäki, does see male conscription as an equality issue.

“However, Unioni will not be the first to demand the abolition of conscription. I would hope that men would grab on to this. We will certainly support them.”

Leena Ruusuvuori, Secretary-General of the National Council of Women of Finland, says that conscription can be seen to contain problems for gender equality.

Ruusuvuori, who once opposed the current system of voluntary military service for women, nevertheless feels that the first priority should be to make the Defence Forces more equal, and only then to address the matter of conscription."

So Ms Leppämäki will not "be the first" to demand the end to conscription, but in the meantime is she "the first" to demand that women should be subject to compulsory conscription on the same basis as men while she umms and errs on the broader point? It's hard to imagine many other gender equality issues on which a feminist union would feel it "wasn't its place" to speak out about, and that it should instead let "men" (in a startlingly non-specific sense) take the lead on.

As for Ms Ruusuvuori, perhaps she could explain how on earth the Defence Forces can possibly be made more equal before addressing the issue of discriminatory rules on conscription?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rejoice : 'civilisation' has been reaffirmed in Georgia

Some timely words of wisdom in the light of Troy Davis' execution -

"Spencer Lawton, the district attorney who secured Davis’ conviction in 1991, said he was embarrassed for the judicial system — not because of the execution, but because it took so long to carry out. “What we have had is a manufactured appearance of doubt which has taken on the quality of legitimate doubt itself. And all of it is exquisitely unfair,” said Lawton, who retired as Chatham County’s head prosecutor in 2008. “The good news is we live in a civilized society where questions like this are decided based on fact in open and transparent courts of law, and not on street corners.""

So, at worst, a mixed day - yes, a man who is highly likely to be innocent has just been put to death, but on the plus side one of the people responsible for that happening can now cretinously feel less "embarrassed" as a result. Also intriguing to discover that "civilisation" seemingly resides in the act of strapping an innocent man to a gurney and then pumping toxic drugs into his body until his heart stops, and not in the act of protesting against such an outrage on "street corners". You learn something new every day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A free choice to make the 'right' decision?

Remember Sophie Bridger, the young Liberal Democrat candidate in the Inverclyde by-election who made the soon-to-be-MP for the constituency look about two feet tall in one of the TV debates? Well, I just happened to stumble across a blogpost of hers from a few weeks ago, on the subject of the Icelandic bans on strip clubs and the purchase of sex -

“'I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.' It’s hard not to be won over by such emotive words from Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an Icelandic campaigning organisation against sex work. I would love to live in a country without strip clubs, lapdancing or prostitution...

Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that legislation of this nature is illiberal. Whose rights are being infringed by a cheap lapdance? Not the buyer – he’s paying for a service. If the lapdancer is providing that service willingly, and not being coerced into her work, then she’s not having her rights infringed either. There are sex workers who do it because they enjoy it – not because they are being coerced, or to pay for a drug habit. So why should we prevent them from doing their work?

It’s not that simple, of course. People are being forced into prostitution, through trafficking and addiction and that is not acceptable. But criminalising prostitution will just push it underground, putting already vulnerable sex workers in danger...

...Liberalism means letting people make their own decisions. All we can do is ensure that those who engage in sex work do it because they want to, not because they have to. I hope that one day, I will live in a society without prostitution – not because it is illegal, but because women have decided that they are not for sale."

I think the last point is naive and unrealistic - giving people a free choice, but ultimately expecting every last one of them to exercise that free choice in conformity with the values of just one section of society, is a contradiction in terms. Human beings are made differently from each other - and the fact that many people find prostitution incomprehensible or morally objectionable is neither here nor there to the minority of women and men who take the opposite view and make a free choice to become sex workers. By the same token, there are many other much more 'legitimate' jobs that, if we're honest, a lot of us would never dream of doing and wouldn't want members of our families to do - but the idea of wanting those jobs to literally cease to exist on the basis of those subjective feelings is silly.

However, I agree with the main thrust of Sophie's argument. The current Icelandic government is the first majority left-wing administration the country has seen in its history - and it's a great shame that such a welcome development has almost inevitably been accompanied by the customary pigheadedness of the Nordic left in relation to sex work, refusing to see the industry in its true complex form, and instead reducing everything in infantile fashion to 'male exploitation of women'.

UPDATE (12:50pm) : A final little flurry in the Total Politics Awards - this blog has been voted the 95th best political blog in the UK (having failed to make the top 300 last year), and I've been voted the 143rd best political blogger. Thanks again for all your support.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Israel, and circular logic

I just spotted this comment from a user on the Sky website -

"Surely the world can only recognise a sovereign Palestinian state when they and the rest of the Arab world recognise Israel."

Leaving aside the minor quibble that the Palestinian president and much of the rest of the Arab world do indeed recognise Israel, I'm guessing the vast majority of American politicians would regard that statement as plain common sense. But what if it were to be reversed, and precisely the same standards applied to Israel and the US that are applied to the Palestinians and the Arabs...

"Surely the world can only recognise Israel's right to exist when they and their American allies recognise Palestinian statehood."

Now that would be considered utterly outrageous. But what exactly is the difference? Unless of course Palestinians are considered to be of intrinsically less worth than Israelis.

On a vaguely similar theme, I also spotted this at AmericaBlog -

"Bachmann and her ilk are pretty disgusting people. But her latest argument is truly revolting. Bachmann thinks that Obama did too little to save the dictatorship of Mubarak. According to the National Review:

In a speech to about 400 Republicans gathered for the state party’s fall convention here, the three-term Minnesota congresswoman blamed President Obama for “the hostilities of the Arab spring” and expressed regret that “we saw (Egyptian) President (Hosni) Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands.”

Just what is so special about Israel that the populations of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, a total of over 100 million people should have to live under brutal dictatorships just in case democracy might be a threat? Margaret Thatcher believed the opposite, pointing out to Gorbachev that two democracies had never gone to war against each other."

What's so special about Israel? Well, one thing that always used to be cited (I remember Melanie Phillips fuming when the Question Time audience spontaneously laughed after she brought the subject up) is the very fact that it was "the only democracy in the Middle East". But that claim became somewhat more problematical when you remembered that Israel and its allies have for decades been moving heaven and earth to keep the situation that way, against the wishes of the people in neighbouring countries.

UPDATE : And another pearl of wisdom from a Yahoo user -

"Can you imagine the Palestinians running the country on their own? No!"

Dear heavens, the Palestinians sound almost as useless as the Scots.

Doing a Portillo?

It's a sure sign of just how completely I managed to switch off from Scottish politics while I was in Italy that I've only just caught up with the news (from fifteen days ago!) that Murdo Fraser wants (seemingly, possibly, ambiguously) to replace the Scottish Tory party with a new, autonomous, unashamedly pro-devolution centre-right force. This, it should go without saying, is the first semblance of strategic sense we've heard from a leading Scottish Tory since...oooh, about 1982, and is also a very rare instance of the interests of the Tories and of Scotland coinciding. The fact that the idea has brought Alan Cochrane out in a rash is testament enough to that.

But initially I couldn't help wondering if Fraser was making the same fatal mistake that Michael Portillo made ten years ago, ie. expounding his radical plans for change during the leadership campaign, rather than following the more cynical Blair path of saying nothing very much during the campaign, and then bouncing the party into an internal revolution immediately afterwards. However, that comparison doesn't quite work - the leader of the Scottish Tories isn't the master of all he or she surveys in the way that a UK party leader is, and therefore Fraser needs his clear-cut mandate for a new party from the word go. So he's doing the right thing, and for all our sakes we can only hope that Kate Higgins' confident forecast from a few weeks ago that Ruth Davidson was near-enough certain to win was wrong. Personally, I think Ms Davidson is a touch on the insufferable side anyway, but when has that ever been a barrier to rising to the top of the Scottish Tory ranks?

Monday, September 19, 2011

A heartfelt plea to First Bus

If you really must insist on 'exact change only', is it too much to ask in this day and age that you put a comprehensible list of fares on your website so we can actually have the exact change ready before we step on the bus?

Could you possibly advertise your fare changes a bit more prominently and for a bit longer, so that I don't get caught out every single time I come back from holiday?

Could you possibly make your fares a bit more logically consistent, so that a single fare after 9 or 10pm (or whenever the cut-off point is - another mystery) doesn't somehow end up costing more than a return normally would?

Thankyou for your inattention.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tavish : the bitterness lives on

I genuinely expected to come away with a more favourable impression of Tavish Scott after reading his candid confessional about the Lib Dems' catastrophic election campaign in Scotland on Sunday, but...I didn't. His legendary irrational bitterness towards the SNP leaks out again and again -

"Money was an enormous problem. Business either backed the SNP or was frightened to back anyone else publicly. The Nationalists' approach of public charm and private threats - the intimation (sic) of anyone who is against them - had paid off."

And how exactly was this supposed "intimidation" so effective when everyone and his granny (including me, if I'm honest) thought Labour were highly likely to win just a matter of weeks before polling day? A party seemingly heading into opposition is hardly in a position to "threaten" anyone.

"The BBC's leaders' debate in Perth went fine. Iain Gray looked like the world was about to fall in and Salmond who, as usual, knew the audience was stacked with Nationalists, was himself."

The audience stacked with nationalists? Nonsense. I vividly recall the Daily Record's authoritative account of that debate, and there can be no doubt that Iain Gray was cheered to the rafters, while Salmond was left a broken man.

And the SNP aren't the only targets for Scott's bitterness. Unsurprisingly, the man who had the temerity to put up a stiff challenge in Fortress Tavish itself comes in for a special mention -

"But what told me how bad it might be was a late March afternoon campaigning in Shetland. Having won 67 per cent of the vote in the 2007 election the only way was backwards. I faced an unpleasant local campaign led by an anti-wind farm campaigner masquerading as an independent, egged on by the local media."

Ah, is that a bit like Jo Swinson masquerading as "Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats", but magically turning into an English Lib Dem when she votes on tuition fees just to get Tavish off the hook? Oooh, for heaven's sake, Gordon, go and ask her about that.