Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I've been planning to write a post with that title (a quote from Walt Whitman) for a good few weeks, by way of an admission that I jumped the gun in saying that Engelbert Humperdinck's UK Eurovision entry was bound to have only a niche appeal, before I'd even heard it. But I winced when Alex Massie gave the quote a spin in the Scotsman recently, because now it's bound to look like that's where I stole the idea from. Cheers, Alex.

Anyway, having totally immersed myself in the Eurovision national final season for a few weeks, I drifted away again, and I thought it was high time I caught up with the latest standings in the betting and fan polls. I wasn't really expecting any surprises - but I was wrong. Italy second in the betting, Russia third. What is going on? I was so uninspired by Italy's entry that my first listen to it a few weeks ago was also my last until today. It's grown on me a bit, and I suppose it has a quirky side to it, but unless they do something absolutely astonishing with the staging, it's not a winner. I presume Russia are only so high because British bookies/punters think that 'barking mad' always wins votes at the Eurovision. Well, they're half right - we could easily see it finishing in the top half of the table come the night of the final (particularly with the assistance of the pro-Russian bloc vote), but it has virtually no chance of winning.

One thing that isn't a surprise is to see Sweden leading the betting - it's been the fan favourite from the word go. But again, I'm not at all convinced. Dance tracks have a uniformly atrocious record at the contest, including one or two that were tipped to win - the superb Je t'adore by Kate Ryan famously failed to even qualify for the final in 2006. So at this stage, I'll go out on a limb and more or less exclude Sweden's chances of outright victory.

So who does that leave? Next highest in the betting are Serbia, the UK and Denmark, in that order. I think the UK have every right to go in with as much confidence as they did under Andrew Lloyd-Webber's direction three years ago - when they (or "we" as I must force myself to say) finished fifth. So I think that's the sort of placing we're probably looking at again. We're not going to win, because a new law of physics was discovered circa 1999 stating that the UK can't win Eurovision anymore. As for Denmark, they have a lovely song, but also one that's not desperately original or likely to reach out of the screen and grab people on a first listen.

Having eliminated virtually everyone else's chances, could this then be one of those rare years where a song wins purely on quality? Serbia, Spain and Iceland are the class songs of the field in my opinion, and in comparison with the competition they all look ideally placed. And with Serbia having the Balkan bloc vote behind them, and with the name/face recognition factor of their performer (Željko Joksimović), they would be my hot tip for the time being.

And then of course there's Jedward. Ahem...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I had them all wrong...

From a hard-headed political point of view, it's such a pity that Alex Salmond has had to pull out of tonight's edition of Question Time due to a family bereavement, just one week out from the local elections. But no-one can doubt that he has his priorities firmly in order. And it's noteworthy that he hasn't, as you might have expected, been replaced by another SNP representative. That neatly answers David Dimbleby's sneering question from a few months back about why Alex Salmond only accepts invitations onto the programme when it is held in England. It's now plain for all to see that if he accepted invitations to appear in the editions in Scotland, those would be the only ones in which the SNP were represented at all, and they scarcely happen that often. It's an uphill struggle for the SNP to get their fair share on "national" TV as it is.

One good thing to have come out of Salmond's withdrawal, though, is that I now realise I've totally misjudged the Tory Herd over at Political Betting. They did themselves proud yesterday when the news broke. To be absolutely honest, I would have expected them to make fools of themselves by instantly jumping to silly conclusions, but they didn't - they simply waited patiently until the full facts presented themselves. For example...

Next : LOL

The Watcher : One wonders what Salmond is running away and hiding from.

Slackbladder : And the brave, brave brave Sir Alex bravely ran away...

The Watcher : It's as if he has something to hide.

Chris g00 : Gordon Brown: Author of the book 'Courage'
Alex Salmond: Braveheart

What does it say about Scotland's two most senior politicians, that they prefer to run and hide, rather than stand and fight?

AlanBrooke : non-story, nothing to see [note : intended as hilarious sarcasm]

The Watcher : Is Alec [sic] making time for a 'date night' with Rupert?

Chris g00 : BBC Question Time

"Question Time is in Romford tomorrow with Chris Grayling; @HackneyAbbott ; @pollytoynbee ; @Nigel_Farage and Simon Hughes. #bbcqt"

No Alex? Leadership brought to you by the SNP.

And then, just after that, the news filtered through that the reason Salmond had withdrawn was because he was attending a family funeral. Any expressions of contriton or mild embarrassment? No, curiously enough, they all suddenly found they had other subjects to discuss as a matter of some urgency.

* * *

Sticking with the subject of Question Time, I was reflecting on the discussion during last week's show about the proposal to dock the child benefit of parents whose children persistently truant. It made me think back to the last few months of my own time at school, when the following sequence of events occurred more than once or twice -

1) My mother drove me to the front door of the school.

2) She watched me enter the front door.

3) I nipped out the side door.

4) I hid in some bushes for 40 minutes to avoid late-arriving teachers.

5) I made my escape.

I'd be fascinated to discover how the likes of Blair and Cameron reckon my mother could have been held criminally responsible for all that. Admittedly, it would be harder to get away with it these days, with the sudden influx of technology that can track the movement of pupils every second of the day. But that's scarcely progress - it just makes schools look even less like places of learning, and even more like day-prisons for non-criminals.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's a shame you brought that up...

On this morning's thread, JPJ2 mentioned that he was the only person brave enough to have left a mildly critical comment on Jenny Kemp's piece about male violence against women at Better Nation. Ms Kemp later responded to his comment directly, and it was a fairly extraordinary contribution -

"It’s a shame that you want to get into this ‘what about abused men’ argument. This was a post about men’s power, privilege, and misuse of those, and the onus on men with public platforms to condemn abuse of women and not perpetuate myths surrounding it."

The problem here is that JPJ2 was in no sense changing the subject. One of the premises on which Jenny's argument and conclusions hinged was that domestic violence is essentially something that men do to women, and not the other way round. JPJ2's comment challenged that premise, and therefore could hardly have been more relevant. Jenny must surely have realised that, so to react by telling him off for speaking out of turn, rather than addressing the legitimate objection he raised, is on the face of it thoroughly peculiar. But it fits into a wider pattern with radical feminism - namely, that certain articles of faith are not up for debate. They don't need to be tested or justified, they're just facts. If you don't find them convincing, it's not the philosophy that's wrong, it's a personal failing on your part. Or perhaps you just haven't been browbeaten hard enough yet. It's not uncommon to hear the phrase "we need to educate men" - not listen to, not engage with, simply educate. In most cases, that's code for stop thinking, and start accepting.

"Of course no-one should ever have to accept domestic abuse, and any men who experience it should be supported, but it’s a different issue."

I would suggest that the first and most important step towards "supporting" men who have been abused is precisely to admit that the issue is not "different". Does a punch to the face feel different if you're a man? Is being struck with a blunt instrument less stressful if you're male? Do men bleed differently to women? Of course not, but by peddling the idea that in some magical, unspecified way it's completely different for men (and by logical extension that men are lesser victims), Ms Kemp is perpetuating the very stigma that makes life so intolerable for many male victims. The radical feminist message in relation to domestic violence is "men are all-powerful, women are passive" (ironically, a profoundly conservative and sexist notion), so if a man admits to being abused it's a strike against his masculinity. Or he'll be told that it can't be as bad as all that, or that he's lying. Is that Ms. Kemp's idea of being supportive?

Another theme of the article was that because men generically are 'to blame' for violence against women, there is a responsibility on all men, whether they are perpetrators or not, to do something about it and "challenge" that violence. They are being negligent if they fail to do so. So if we are expected to believe that female-on-male domestic violence is of an entirely different character, does that mean women generically are 'to blame' for it? We can only assume not, because Jenny sees no irony in the fact that she has effectively been negligent by not actively challenging that type of violence herself - indeed in her article she did the opposite of challenge it, she wrote as if it didn't exist. So it seems we must conclude that male violence against women is "gender-based", but female violence against men is not.

But how can that possibly be? If female-on-male violence proves that human beings can occasionally be violent against their partners in a sporadic way that is not rooted in "patriarchy", "matriarchy" or any other type of "-archy", surely the same must sometimes apply to male-on-female violence? How can all male-on-female violence be "gender-based" (and thus something that the male gender is collectively responsible for), when no female-on-male violence need ever trouble the conscience of any other woman? It's just nonsense, and it's hard to escape the conclusion that the real problem with male victims, and this need to swat them away, and tell them "it's a shame" when they don't keep their noses out of all this, is less to do with protecting female victims of violence, and more to do with protecting a treasured belief-system that countless lifetimes of political activism would be rendered meaningless without. That was of course the point that JPJ2 was making - that this isn't a gender-exclusive issue, and that the most effective way to help all victims, including female victims, is to move beyond that warped and harmful paradigm. Is Ms. Kemp actually interested in discussing what might be effective, or do we have to sign up lock, stock and barrel to her ideology before our voices can be considered legitimate?

"Women experience a whole continuum of abuse from men (sexual harrassment, domestic abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage, exploitation in prostitution, stalking, genital mutilation etc etc) in a way that men don’t."

OK, let's take those one at a time -

Men experience sexual harrassment. If anyone claims they don't, it's only for the same reason that men supposedly "can't be raped by women", ie. the act is either defined in law or in the interpretation of the law in ludicrously gendered terms. Men experience harrassment at the hands of both men and women, just as women do. So this is not an exclusively male-on-female problem.

Men experience domestic abuse, as Ms Kemp herself has conceded. They experience it at the hands of both women and men, just as women do. Again, not an exclusively male-on-female problem.

Men experience sexual violence, at the hands of both men and women. As noted above, the only reason they "can't be raped by a woman" is that the law defines rape in gendered terms.

Men experience forced marriage. Women experience it more frequently because of gender discrimination in the societies they live in or their societies of origin. However, the perpetrators of forced marriage are both male and female.

Men experience exploitation in prostitution. But it's hard not to suspect here that Ms Kemp probably takes the "Swedish model" view that all prostitution, however scrupulously consensual, constitutes violence against women, again relying on the sexist and discriminatory worldview that only men are responsible for their actions, and women don't know their own minds.

Men experience stalking, at the hands of both women and men.

The closest Ms Kemp gets to a genuinely gender-exclusive problem is genital mutilation, but even this is something that boys are routinely subjected to as well, albeit in a different form.

"And the root cause of this is women’s wider inequality, in a patriarchal society."

So for the "root cause" of an exclusively male-on-female phenomenon that demonstrably does not actually exist, we're offered an evidence-free affirmation of blind faith in the concept of "patriarchy"? Wow.

"The experience of male domestic abuse victims are really quite different and not something I want to get into here."

And how is it different? She'll tell us later. Maybe.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm convinced.

Zero tolerance - but only of some domestic violence

It was an exasperating experience reading the Better Nation guest post on the subject of domestic and sexual violence from Jenny Kemp of the Zero Tolerance campaign. She makes a number of points that I agree with and which are important - for instance, that Bill Walker can no longer represent his constituents with any credibility, and that he is disturbingly incapable of spotting the contradiction between his admission of violence and his denial of assault. But the conclusion she invites us to draw is an utterly incredible - albeit depressingly familiar - one. It's ironic that someone who draws attention to contradictions in the words of others is unable to spot the equally disturbing contradictions in her own.

"So, having reminded ourselves of various men who have failed to challenge violence and abuse, I can’t help wondering, who will be next?..

...What I hope is much less certain is that he (or very occasionally she – let’s not forget the deep sexism of Nadine Dorries MP, who has blamed girls for their own sexual abuse) will get away with it. Bill, William and Ken might be safe – although in the case of Mr Walker that’s by no means certain – but I hope that whoever next reveals he doesn’t know or care about men’s violence and abuse will not be left standing, so essentially undamaged by the ordeal. What kind of message would that send out to women seeking justice or recovery from domestic abuse or sexual violence? That the establishment is a safe place to hide if you are a bigot and a misogynist? That the male protection racket is alive and well? That, frankly, we don’t care? That’s not a message I find tolerable or acceptable."

I'm not going to say that Jenny doesn't care about male victims of domestic or sexual violence committed by women or by other men. I'm not going to say that she doesn't care about female victims of domestic or sexual violence committed by other women. But it is a fact that she doesn't seem remotely interested in them. It is a fact that she seems to tacitly deny the possibility of their very existence. She practically defines domestic and sexual violence as something that "men" do to women. She acknowledges that most men don't do it (thanks for that), but as "men" generically are the problem, only men can provide the solution by speaking out. That solution does of course require that the men speaking out think only what they are told to think about the subject, which seemingly will consist of a fair dose of self-loathing -

"If we only ever involve women in tackling this problem, which is caused by men..."

Good grief. Heaven forbid that both men and women might want to be involved in tackling a problem that is caused by individuals of both genders, and which individuals of both genders suffer from. Jenny talks about powerful men who don't "get it", but she's in a position of some power as well. She notes that there is already a "cross-party consensus" against domestic violence (in the terms that she defines it - exclusively male-on-female), so where on earth has that consensus sprung from if the bastard "men" are the only ones with power in this country? It's there because Jenny and those who share her views carry disproportionate influence, to the point where the worldview she promotes is practically unchallengeable in some (notably Scottish Labour) circles.

Now, there isn't a "female protection racket" that deliberately trivialises the impact of female-on-male (or female-on-female or male-on-male) domestic or sexual abuse. But there are people in the elite, of both genders, who are emotionally wedded to an antiquated ideology of mono-directional power relations between men and women, which means, to coin a phrase, that they simply don't "get it" about what happens in the real world. Jenny is outraged about the "message" that powerful men belittling violence against women send out, but I despair to think what message is being sent out by her own celebration of a cross-party consensus that seeks to silence the voices of a large number of victims of domestic violence. Indeed, a consensus that chillingly tells those victims that they themselves are the "cause" of domestic violence, through the very fact of their gender.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A couple of housekeeping points

Just to let you know that you can now subscribe to this blog by email. I've been very reluctant to enable that feature, because I assumed it sent out posts as soon as they were published. That would have made me a bit paranoid, because I've had a few disasters where I've hit 'publish' before a post was properly ready. But apparently it doesn't work like that - a digest goes out every day at a set time (but only if there's been a post in the last 24 hours, of course). You can find the subscription form near the top of the sidebar.

Spurred on by the comment from Lupus (I think?) the other week, I've also taken the plunge and joined Networked Blogs. But the widget is far too large, so I had a look at what LPW has done, and instead set up a Facebook page for this blog, and installed the widget from that. (Scroll down the sidebar to see it.) In theory the feed from Networked Blogs should go to that page, and also to Twitter. What could possibly go wrong? Ah well, I'll just regard it as a trial run!

Monday, April 23, 2012

YouGov poll : Livingstone back in the hunt

Of the many, many innocuous comments of mine that were randomly deleted by the Tory moderators at Political Betting in the 48 hours prior to me finally taking the hint, one was in response to regular poster Antifrank, who clearly felt he was saying something deeply controversial (he probably was in PB terms) when he observed : "In my judgement, Nicolas Sarkozy has less chance of winning the French presidential election than Ken Livingstone has of being elected Mayor of London". I can't remember exactly how I replied (or tried to reply), but the gist of it was "well, yes, obviously". That sentiment has now been borne out by the latest YouGov poll on the London mayoral race, which shows a virtual dead heat -

First round

Boris Johnson (Conservative) 43% (-2)
Ken Livingstone (Labour) 41% (+1)
Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrat) 8% (+1)
Lawrence Webb (UKIP) 3% (-)
Siobhan Benita (Independent) 3% (+1)
Jenny Jones (Green) 2% (-)
Carlos Cortiglia (BNP) 1% (-)

Second round

Boris Johnson (Conservative) 51% (-2)
Ken Livingstone (Labour) 49% (+2)

Ir remains to be seen whether the closing of the gap is real or an artifact of the margin of error. One thing is clear, however - Alan Sugar's delusional attempt to 'instruct' his Twitter followers to desert Livingstone has had zero effect, as always seemed likely. If the power of celebrity was in itself enough to decide elections, Robert Kilroy-Silk would by now be well into his second term at the helm of a Veritas government.

Labour should take heed of that truth, because it seems to be Sugar's celebrity that saved him from the fate that would befall any other Labour parliamentarian who recommended that Labour voters should vote against the party - instant withdrawal of the whip. Why he's seen as an indispensable asset when he has a crazy-paving history of past political endorsements that makes Jim Sillars look (almost) consistent is beyond me. As for Sugar's Apprentice sidekick Karren Brady, she went down several notches in my estimation with her absurd 'sporting analogy' intervention in the AV referendum last year (on behalf of the No side, naturally).

Turning to the French election, one thing that came out of the BBC coverage last night is that, astonishingly, the US has nothing on France when it comes to feverish election rallies. I may want Sarkozy to lose, but it was hard not to feel a tingle down the spine as his supporters chanted his name and waved flags. And I kind of understood for the first time why he won five years ago - he did a disarming "Da da!" hand gesture as he took to the stage, as if he'd just performed an amazing conjuring trick, as opposed to becoming the first incumbent President not to top the first round poll. His perfect showmanship continued as he pushed all the right buttons with his speech, and whipped the crowd up into an even more frenzied state. But thankfully for France and for Europe it looks as if, this time round, stardust will be his enemy and not his friend.

Harris-watch : the praise for Cameron

Just before I forget, I thought I'd trawl through the archives to track down an example of Tom Harris' praise for David Cameron, bashfully posted under a pseudonym ("Devo Max") at PB -

"Cameron wants the question settled for the good of all.

Unlike Salmond, who wants the question delayed for the good of Salmond.

Another year in Bute House? Yes thanks."

The good of all? How touching. Evidently we now have one Scottish Labour MP who won't be ashamed to share a platform with Cameron during the referendum campaign - albeit only after first donning a balaclava, and pretending to have no name, past or party allegiance.

We're watching you, Tom. (And as with New Labour's beloved CCTV cameras and intrusive surveillance policies, if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear, right?)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poll results : Wings Over Scotland is your favourite political blog

Lallands Peat Worrier held a narrow lead for most of the voting, but in the end Wings Over Scotland came through with a strong finish to be voted your favourite political blog. Of course it was a slightly chaotic, make-it-up-as-I-go-on, two-section voting process, and because eight more people voted in Part 1 than in Part 2, the results are not exactly comparable. So I'm going to add the raw votes each blog received in brackets after the percentages.

Q. Which political blogs do you read?

Multi-voting was enabled, so the figure for each blog refers to the percentage of voters who read it.

1. Wings Over Scotland 81% (100/123)
2. Lallands Peat Worrier 79% (104/131)
3. Bella Caledonia 71% (94/131)
4. A Burdz Eye View 58% (77/131)
5. Moridura 57% (75/131)
= Gerry Hassan 57% (75/131)
7. Better Nation 56% (74/131)
8. Iain Macwhirter Now and Then 54% (67/123)
9. Munguin's Republic 48% (63/131)
10. Subrosa 46% (61/131)
11. Ian Hamilton QC 43% (54/123)
12. Another Side of Lesley Riddoch 40% (50/123)
= Alex Massie 40% (50/123)
14. Stephen Noon 38% (51/131)
15. Craig Murray 36% (48/131)
16. Pseudepigrapha 35% (44/123)
17. Witterings of a Weegiewarbler 34% (43/123)
18. Auld Acquaintance 31% (39/123)
19. Peter A Bell 25% (31/123)
20. Devolution Matters 23% (29/123)
= Dark Lochnagar 23% (29/123)
22. Slugger O'Toole 22% (28/123)
23. Labour Hame 21% (28/131)
24. The Lockerbie Case 20% (25/123)
= Guido Fawkes 20% (25/123)
26. A Scottish Liberal 18% (24/131)
27. Brian Taylor 16% (20/123)
28. Forfar Loon 15% (20/131)
= Alba Matters 15% (20/131)
30. Liberal Conspiracy 14% (19/131)
31. UK Polling Report 13% (18/131)
= Left Foot Forward 13% (18/131)
33. Leanne Wood 12% (16/131)
34. Tory Hoose 10% (14/131)
= Political Betting 10% (14/131)
36. Will Patterson Notebook 9% (12/131)
37. Tarff Advertiser 9% (12/123)
38. Caron's Musings 8% (11/131)
39. Political Scrapbook 7% (10/131)
40. Ian Smart 7% (9/123)
41. Liberal Democrat Voice 6% (9/131)
42. The Green Benches 6% (8/123)
43. Bright Green 6% (8/131)
44. Kezia Dugdale 5% (7/131)
45. LabourList 4% (6/131)
46. SNP : The Inside Track 3% (4/131)
47. Conservative Home Blogs 2% (3/123)
48. The View from the Hills 2% (3/131)
= Labour Uncut 2% (3/131)
50. Councillor Terry Kelly 1% (2/123)
= Braveheart's Blog 1% (2/123)
52. Shuggy 1% (2/131)
53. Andrew Burns' Really Bad Blog 0% (1/123)
54. Eric Joyce 0% (1/131)
55. Jim Murphy 0% (0/123)

Write-in Votes (ie. blogs I stupidly forgot to include even at the second time of asking) : The Universality of Cheese, A Sair Fecht, Scottish Economy Watch

Of course these figures probably say less about the objective popularity of each blog than they do about the profile of visitors to this site. It's well-known that Guido Fawkes is the most widely-read political blog in the UK, so its joint-24th place here is fairly meaningless. However, it was an interesting exercise all the same. Obviously there's a strong pro-independence bias, but it's notable how well the non-nationalist bloggers who at least give the SNP a fair hearing did - Iain Macwhirter at 8th, Lesley Riddoch and Alex Massie at joint 12th.

It's slightly surprising to see Councillor Terry Kelly so far down - I always assumed lots of nationalists went there regularly for the comedy value. And it seemed almost unkind to mention Jim Murphy's figures, but I'd have been failing in my psephological duties otherwise.

Thanks to everyone who voted.