Saturday, October 28, 2006

Inside the creationist city academies

The Labour Humanist blog is currently carrying a video made by a pupil at one of Sir Peter Vardy's Emmanuel academies. Click here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Johnson in faith schools volte face

The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, has tonight announced that the government's planned 'quota' for faith schools has been scrapped. The plan was to mean that faith schools would be forced to admit up to 25% to children not of that faith. However, agreement seems to have been reached with the Catholic church over a voluntary agreement, the BBC reports.

Won't they bloody learn? The Catholic church has kicked up an unseemly rumpus over the plans and the cabinet, doubtless cajoled by Blair and Kelly, announces that as they've agreed they do it voluntarily that'll be just fine. I wish my credit card companies worked like that. "Yeah, course I'll pay you back, we don't need to bother about fines and interest." Businesses involved in PFI projects also made good-will agreements over handing back percentages of profits made from renegotiating the loans they used to finance schools and hospitals. The government failed to bind them into a written agreement and low and behold none of the PFI companies paid back a ha'penny. It's enough to make you utter a few oaths and kick the cat. And I don't like cats at the best of times.

Agreements already exist with Islamic schools and the Church of England and it is hoped Jewish schools will follow. Why are these agreements deemed more desirable than legislation? Is it because in the real world the various churches involved know they can stick two fingers up to local authorities and blithely ignore it. More crucially, if these institutions are taking children from other faith and belief backgrounds, what the bloody hell is the point of them anyway.

There's little news on the announcement at present and a planned government press conference was delayed as I write, so when the full details are available, please come back tomorrow where I'm liable to be fulminating some more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Veil row woman loses appeal

The Muslim classroom assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil while at work has lost her appeal against religious discrimination.

Aishah Azmi was asked to remove the veil after the school in Dewsbury said pupils found it hard to understand her. I must say having just seen on the news her press conference after the decision, I found I was perfectly able to understand her as she bellowed into the microphone. Ms Azmi intends to appeal against the decision.

The tribunal did, however, uphold her claim that she had been victimised and criticised MPs for speaking out on the matter and potentially prejudicing the hearing. Ms Azmi was awarded £1000 for 'hurt feelings'.

It has been said that Ms Azmi removed her veil when interviewed for the post and that a male school governor was on the interviewing panel. I must admit I've not seen that confirmed anywhere, but please direct me to the source if it has. Nonetheless, if true, it does not say a great deal for her religious convictions and certainly not the sort which she now professes if she is willing to abandon those beliefs when it is expedient.

Of course, much has been said and written in recent weeks following Jack Straw's initial comments. In my opinion only Harriet Harman- speaking in last week's New Statesman- has elucidated the salient reasons for banishing the veil from British society. Harman points out that it will only be Muslim women themselves (those who choose to wear the niqab) who can move us towards veil-free societies. More importantly, Harman points out that the veil, "is an obstacle to women's participation, on equal terms, in society." This is the fundamental, the glaring, and the overwhelming point that Blair and Straw and others missed.

The veil and any other item of clothing Islam dictates a woman wear are, quite simply, symbols of oppression. They are the product of a male-dominated religion, in which males have made the rules to which women must conform or suffer the direst consequences. The same is true of Christianity which in times now far behind us women were expected to wear long skirts and dowdy clothes to hide their femininity away from public (other men's) view. Love, honour and obey, remember.

Not all Muslim women choose to observe each intricate sartorial command. But those who do are as guilty of female oppression as the religious leaders and preachers who demand it of them. I don't pretend that it can be easy to release oneself from such deeply buried reins and shackles, but it is nonetheless true particularly in Britain where there is freedom to so where there may not be in an Islamic state.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Cameron commission calls for tax cuts

It was only a matter of time, wasn't it? A policy commission which was set up by Cameron has called on the Tories to commit to tax cuts of £21 billion pounds.

The Independent Tax Reform Commission's report is to be unveiled tomorrow but details briefly appeared on the Tories' website. With Cameron having already refused to countenance the demands from the party's right to pledge tax cut promises before the next general election, it will make difficult reading for the leader and may be even more difficult for him to brush aside.

George Osborne has already moved to restrict the opportunities for Labour to seize on the report by saying he welcomes the findings and that it gives his party options.

Cameron's "N.H.S" conference speech is still fresh in the mind and doubtless his detractors will ask how the ITRC's findings can be in anyway beneficial to public services.

Dave's renewal of the party suddenly looks a little less assured. Same old Conservatives?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Kelly urges fight on extremism. How about starting with Opus Dei?

I'd written this post in my head about ten o'clock this morning, when I first saw the headline on the BBC website. However, the perma-irked Reactionary Snob has beaten me to it. Granted, we don't agree on much but he's spot on with this.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sting: a complete %$&£?

Afternoon, folks. Another week has passed and I've been less than prolific with the posts. It's been a bit hectic so hopefully I can step it up again. Anyway, here's a frivolous one to keep you hanging on.

Has anyone seen the TV commercial for Sting's latest meisterwerk? It's called "Songs from the Labyrinth" and is described as the Geordie's, "venture into new musical territory by releasing an album of compositions by Elizabethan songwriter John Dowland. Produced by Edin Karamazov and Sting himself, the album sees Sting faithfully recreate Dowland's lute music some 400 years after it was written

The advert featured him sitting with a hapless sidekick in some sprawling garden landscape full of brightly coloured flowers. Sting's own Elysian Fields perhaps. The only difficulty being he's not actually dead.

I mean Christ on a bleedin' bike who on Earth wants to listen to this garbage?! What a self-aggrandising, pretentious, self indulgent idiot. If it's not bad enough that he's playing a lute, he's still warbling on in his
white man sub-reggae moan with the odd Lesley Garrett type well-rounded, over long vowel for that Elizabethan effect.

If he's going to pretend to be Elizabethan then he ought to be dealt with in the same way: some sort of public display of torture or humiliation. Gordon Bennett.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

More on the chemicals raid

This from the 'Stop the BNP' website:

Chemicals Find: Two In Court

TWO Pendle men have appeared before Pennine magistrates accused of having "a master plan" after what is believed to be a record haul of chemicals used in making home-made bombs was found in Colne.

Robert Cottage (49), of Talbot Street, Colne, and David Bolus Jackson (62), of Trent Road, Nelson, made separate appearances before the court charged with being in possession of an explosive substance for an unlawful purpose. The offences are under the Explosive Substances Act 1883.

Both men were remanded in custody to appear at Burnley Crown Court on October 23rd. Cottage was arrested at his home on Thursday, while retired dentist Jackson was arrested in the Lancaster area on Friday, the same day as he left a dental practice in Grange-over-Sands.

The 22 chemical components recovered by police are believed to be the largest haul ever found at a house in this country.

Cottage is an ex-BNP member who stood as a candidate in the Pendle Council elections in May.

Mrs Christiana Buchanan, who appeared for the prosecution in Jackson's case, alleged the pair had "some kind of masterplan".

She said a search of Jackson's home had uncovered rocket launchers, chemicals, BNP literature and a nuclear biological suit.

Police raided Cottage's Talbot Street home on Thursday of last week. The house was taped off while forensics officers searched the premises. Neighbours were told to stay in their homes for their own safety. Mr Cottage's car was also taken away for examination.

Officers also made a thorough examination of Jackson's Trent Road home and, again, officers were on duty outside the house. Forensics officers examined the property.

BNP men arrested in chemicals raid

A story which didn't make the headlines this week concerns two men with connections to the British National Party. Robert Cottage and David Jackson were arrested after chemical explosives were found in their homes in Lancashire.

I've had a search around on Google and there's not a great deal on this story but I have found these links:

Mathaba News

The Times

Socialist Worker

The Burnley Citizen

News sources of varying import and standards I grant you, but incredible that this hasn't received more coverage if entirely accurate.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Straw invites Muslim anger

Jack Straw, Leader of the House of Commons, has today sparked controversy by revealing that he asks Muslim women who visit his surgeries if they would consider removing their veils.

Straw believes failing to show the nose and mouth is
"a visible statement of separation and of difference." Straw feels the veils can act as a barrier to communication and makes understanding between communities difficult. The backlash to his comments was immediate. A spokesperson for the Islamic Human Rights Commission said, "It is astonishing that someone as experienced and senior as Jack Straw does not realise that the job of an elected representative is to represent the interests of the constituency, not to selectively discriminate on the basis of religion."

Catherine Hossain of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee speaking on Channel Four news just moments ago echoed these criticisms and felt that the Blackburn MP was trivialising the wider problems. However, I think this is short-sighted and grossly unfair. There is, of course, a question of how far different communities should go in order to foster understanding between them. It may be argued that society must be tolerant of religious customs and practices. But not being one to be swayed by the tenets of religious dogma I must demur.

Straw undoubtedly (thanks, AMac, just an oversight) has a point. To illustrate: I have often gazed agog at news reports which have since the beginning of the war in Iraq shown footage of American soldiers who were patrolling the streets while wearing mirrored sunglasses. I don't know much about the conventions of soldiering; I was never in the cadets at school but it seems to even my non-militaristic brain that in the effort to broker trust with the people of a country it might just be helpful for a foreign national who can't speak your language, nor you his, to see your bloody eyes. It left me incredulous. Stupified. The soldiers didn't look human, they looked and moved like robots. (I should add I use the example of American soldiers deliberately as I can't recalling seeing British soldiers adorned in similar accessories.)

Ok, in Straw's case he isn't trying to abate the effects of being seen as a foreign invader, but surely he makes a salient contribution, nonetheless. It's why we object to people talking to us while obscuring their faces with hoods or baseball caps. It's far easier to talk and empathise with someone you can see. Doubtless many will claim that the wearing hoods and baseball caps is in no way the same and is much less serious than the obligation of shrouding oneself in the name of religious conviction. But to them I say cobblers. Indeed in the pursuit of understanding it is surely necessary to consider the landscape free of the shackles of
tendentious thought.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Livingstone begins suspension contest

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, today began his legal contest against the Adjuducation Panel for England's ruling that he had brought his office into disrepute.

The ruling followed an incident in which a reporter from the London Evening Standard, Oliver Finegold, 'door stepped' Mr Livingstone after a private party. Mr Livingstone compared the reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard and continued to do so even after Mr Finegold said he was Jewish and found the remarks offensive.

Now, much has been written about this incident but it seemed to me a few rather obvious points were always missed whenever it was discussed. I've mainly watched reporting of the details of the original incident on BBC London, the BBC's regional news programme. It's pretty clear from watching BBC London regularly that its main reporters and Tim Donovan in particular don't like Ken much. Regardless, in all the attempts by the media and other observers to intellectualise the reasons for the incident, the most straightforward commentary on the incident has yet to be written. So here it is.

Livingstone staggered out of the private party a touch 'tired and emotional'. Up steps Mr Finegold, presumably a bit cold and wet after standing outside for several hours- irked perhaps, and fires his first question, adding that he's from the Evening Standard. Ken, remember is 'tired and emotional', so blurts out some drivel about the reporter being like a concentration camp guard and only doing it because he's paid to. Finegold then replies that he's Jewish and finds Ken's remarks a little unsavoury. However, the reporter recovers his poise, puffs out his chest, put his best foot forward and cracks on with the 'door stepping'.

Sorry to be pendantic about all this, but when Ken first compared Mr Finegold to a Nazi, he didn't know Finegold was Jewish. It may be seem to simple to be worthy of note, but it's true. However, on hearing this Ken may have been best advised to change the subject, but being a bit pissed and annoyed at being jumped by the reporter, he blustered on. In fact, if I was in that situation I must admit I'd have been sceptical if Finegold had told me he was Jewish. It's the oldest trick in the book to hear someone say something which could be offensive and then say, "Oh, but actually I find that offensive because..." Of course, you'd usually be doing so to take the rise of someone and we know that wasn't the case in this instance. Nonetheless, a pissed-up Livingstone may have thought the reporter was simply trying to catch him out, especially as his faculties were not at their keenest. He may have. But admittedly it's still not an excuse for continuing with his outburst. At any rate the point was still missed: Ken compared the man to a Nazi warden before he knew the man was Jewish.

Neither man comes off particularly well in tape recording which Mr Finegold had of the meeting. Livingstone is drunk and belligerent, Finegold is determined to get a word from the mayor and goads him by thanking him for his remarks which he now had on "record". That it led to Livingstone's suspension is laughable. However, it may make some of us more cautious about what we call the traffic warden next time we return to our vehicle to find he or she is just issuing a ticket. Who knows where you could end up?

Tory conference wash out

I had wanted to take some time this week to look at the goings-on at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth. Unfortunately, I've really not had much time to sit down and post this week (I'm a lazy blogger) so may I instead direct you to Johann Hari's assessment of Dave the Vague's week.

Time to close Fascist website

A report in today's Guardian focuses on the far-right website 'Redwatch' which I have mentioned on these pages before.

This site is dedicated to providing fascists around Britain with the pictures and addresses of those who campaign against them. Many of those people featured on Redwatch's site have been subjected to horrific assaults and attacks. For some time now calls have been growing for the government to take action and close down this site.

You can support the effort by emailing John Reid via the Stop the BNP website. Please help.