Immigration and Public Services

I’ve just been sent the November newsletter from the Social Market Foundation, which includes a very interesting essay by Conservative moderate John Bercow.

Aside from the cultural benefits of a multiracial society, there is a powerful economic case for immigration. Put simply, immigrants are incoming assets for at least three reasons. First, in a global economy, their labour is vital both to tackle severe skills shortages and to fill long term vacancies. Immigrants are not taking jobs that British workers could fill, but jobs which British workers are unable or unwilling to do. Second, the idea that immigration is an intolerable burden on the taxpayer and the welfare state is baloney. Immigrants give far more than they take. It is estimated that they make a net contribution to the economy of £2.5 billion, account for over 10% of the income tax take, and are disproportionately employed in the public services. Third, as our population shrinks and ages, immigration is vital to staving off a pensions crisis.

In the same publication, SMF Director Ann Rossiter talks about improving public services, and how to pay for them:

… polls show that people are willing to pay more for services they value. However … when it comes to election time, the public tend to vote with their pockets.

One of these days, a politician needs to stand up and call the public a bunch of selfish bastards…

On which front do we fight?

Two articles against Christianity: George Monbiot kicks off a debate by asking whether better off without God, since the stronger the faith, the stronger the function. Meanwhile, Johann Hari launches a timely Global War for the soul of Catholicism, after seeing how the church hinders the sex-education of vulnerable children. I’ve been thinking about these for a couple of weeks ago, until yesterday when I read a couple of letters in The Independent asserting that the problem with all religion is an inherent lack of tolerance.

last night I remembered Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s homily, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man.

Joseph has a point, but I’m with the relativists. While losing God and your moral anchor might mean a descent into egomania and decadence, this is by no means certain, and (more importantly) it is also not true for most people worldwide! Conversely, the dogma that the soon-to-be Pope advocates must entail a dictatorship, in order for it to work. And the worst kind of dictatorship too – one that is unchanging, static, and thus cannot be reasoned with. Continue reading “On which front do we fight?”

Quake Day

After the Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katerina, people have been suggesting that we may begin to suffer from Disaster Fatigue, an ailment that is just as dangerous as avian flu, and then some.

DesiPundit have declared today to be Blog Quake Day. Visit the Quake Day page to find links to those organisations that could use a small donation.

Undermining the UN

A little while ago I wrote that a great deal of political discourse is nothing more that a shouting match, as people on both sides of a debate merely present arguments that reinforce their own argument, oblivious to the fact that someone of the opposing view is likely to give the benefit of the doubt to those they arlready support. The best arguments and evidence are those that are so compelling they ring true even with people who are naturally pre-disposed to think the opposite.

I tend to be naturally pro-UN, mainly because we need such an organisation and its the only one we have. I have always thought that the disregard for the UN by the United States does as much to undermine the organisation, as any inaction on the part of the United Nations itself. However, the report of doctored UN reports seems to me a classic piece of almost opinion-changing evidence. It has transpired that, in a report into the death of former Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, someone in the UN deliberately removed allegations that brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was involved in the assasination.

The UN must derive its strength from being obviously impartial. This does not simply mean that it remains impervious to pressure from the USA, but also that it does not aid and abet wrong-doing of the apparent ‘other side’, the Arabic and/or Islamic states in the Middle-East. If we and the UN wish to condemn US unilateralism, we also have to condemn such acts by other states as well. Nothing could be more unilateral than the upper echelons of the Syrian regime committing political assasinations. Never mind the fact that the assasination back-fired, and resulted in a diminished Syrian power-base in Beirut; the UN has sunk into the trough of the moral-low ground, and seriously undermined itself by these actions.

On a side note, I find it fascinating that such a large, global organisation has been undone by the ‘track changes’ tool in what I can only assume is the Microsoft Word programme (although I suppose it could have been the open source alternative, OpenOffice.org). Hasn’t anyone in the UN heard of a PDF? Obviously not. It is another delightful example of technology and the internet exposing the duplicity of the organisations that seek to control the information we receive.

Plant Photography: The birth of a meme

It is rare that one is present at the exact moment when a new cultural meme is born. Okay, so I was not actually present in the studio when Joan Rivers called Darcus Howe a “son of a bitch”, but I was listening to it live. In fact, I was lying in a state of semi-consciousness and River’s shouting aroused me from slumber.

The presenter, Libby Purves, did well to let the argument run its course, and allow Joan Rivers to refute Darcus Howe’s allegation that she was offended by the word “black”. However, she was eventually obliged to give other interviewees space to promote their projects. She turned to photographer Andrea Jones and said:

Andrea, shall we talk about plant photography?

This simply could not have been scripted better. The new subject was the perfect antidote to a heated debate about racism, true ‘flower-power’ in action.

Other people clearly feel the same. Just as “Weapons of Mass Destruction” has now become an easy short-hand for some figment of the imagination, an impossibly acrimonius debate (or more specifically, its forced conclusion) has already been labelled ‘plant photography’. Several examples of this new turn-of-phrase have already appeared in abundance. The blogosphere will certainly entrench it in the coming weeks – I wonder if it will catch on stateside?

document 3: Human Rights Film Festival

Our location is Nice n’ Sleazys on Sauchiehall Street, oppposite the CCA in Glasgow. We have just watched a set of short films at document 3, the International Human Rights Film Festival.

Runaways follows a group of Afghani refugees as they make their way to the border with Tajakistan. Although the subjects are subsisting in a manner that would not have looked odd a thousand years ago, the film is very much of the 21st century. Before the advent of digital technology, a lone film-maker could not have ’embedded’ themselves so unobtrusively into a group of people. A little girl helps her toddler brother over the mud. A young man pushes his veiled mother onto a donkey, then pushes the donkey like a pram out over the plains. These silent vignettes portray the simplicity of the group’s goal – to keep moving, and survive.

Laura Waddington’s Border manages to capture a similar state of mind. Out in the fields around Red Cross Sangatte camp in northern France, we watch the desperate refugees as they try and smuggle themselves through the channel tunnel to England. When they are caught and sent back to the camp, they return to try again the next evening, as if they are clocking-in and clocking-off at a factory.

The clandestine attempts to abscond are captured by a digital camera on its most extreme ‘night setting’. This mimicks a very slow shutter speed on a film camera, and the result is a grainy, sepia image which constantly strobes at only a couple of frames per second. The people we see are mostly in the shadows, which fits with the conception of the refugees as an under-class, a set of ghosts that move among us unseen, submerged. However, after half-an-hour of this, the lack of clarity in the picture becomes slightly tiresome, and I found myself wishing in vain for some daylight shots, or even some proper, infra-red night footage. Accompanied by the sombre narration (the authors of which clearly believing it was far more profound than it actually was), the final ten minutes seemed more like a conceptual art project than a film with substance.

Better the short simplicity of Arrival, a short description of one man’s entry to the UK at Gatwick Airport. Albino Ochero-Okello narrates his own story, and the directors let his words paint the picture of a man so scared that he leaves behind everything in the world that matters. The images serve as a backdrop, and the contrasting sequences of train journeys in England and East Africa enhance the sense of travel and distance. I just wish the same strobe effect we had seen in the previous film had been abandoned. These are documentaries, not music videos.

The visual style of this triumvirate contrasted sharply with the clean presentation of the fourth and final film, which was also the shortest. Unconstrained by the need to be wandering over marsh-land, scrambling through ditches in the dark, or leaning out of a train window, Bon Voyage instead concentrates on a single shift at work, of a single immigrant worker. Each image has been carefully story-boarded, and the extra effort to set-up tracking shots pays off. The result is a perfectly framed montage. Clearly, asking the central character to tell their own story is the way forward with these kinds of films – A woman who cleans toilets at Montparnasse Station wistfully recalls her time in Africa, and wishes she was in a place with status, comfort, and money. As with the other films, she reminds us that many emigrations are not made voluntarily, and that most people who find themselves seeking asylum never expected their fate to be thus.

Eloquent Kashmiris

As the death toll rises, there seems to be very little I can say on the latest natural disaster to wreak havoc on unsuspecting peoples.

One thing that struck me: I was watching a report on the relief effort, and a random Kashmiri farmer was being interviewed. His son had an arm in a sling, and they were describing their predicament. They were talking in English… It never ceases to amaze me the capacity that other nationalities have for bilingualism, when in the UK its a struggle to get students to take a GCSE or a Standard/Higher in another language.

Clearly these people have a different conception of language and nationality to us islanders. Kashmir is a divided region of course, with several ethnicities, affiliations and identities. The requirement to speak more than one dialect is a fact of life.

Next time there is a river bursts its banks and swamps an English flood plain, I wonder how many people will be able to describe their experiences to the foreign news agencies?

Inaug-roll

I’ve been waiting for a little while before adding anyone to the blogroll. This is partially because I’ve been fretting over whether or not to call it a ‘blogroll’ or whether to opt for something a more conservative description. It is also because I wanted to write a short yet coherent justification of each entry, and why they should be so honoured on www.robertsharp.co.uk.

Today I decided I should get my head out of my arse on both counts and simply get on with it.

I find myself leaving comments frequently on Pickled Politics, and I think they have hit just the right tone: balanced in places, yet with a rightly indignant fucking attitude problem in others…

Clive Davis has to be one of the most well read people on the planet. Ultimately, I disagree with him politically, but the articles he highlights always deserve a consideration, which I think will make my opinions better. His thoughts on culture, and especially the blogosphere, are particularly enlightening.

I came to Clive Davis via Jenks at the thames, who claims it was Clive who persuaded him to start a blog. I could confess to a vague nepotism with this one, as Jenks and I apparently share a couple of genes somewhere along the line… but I do enjoy his vignettes on bringing up three kids. Let’s hope this addition to the blogroll squeezes a few more out of him, eh? (edit: That would be blog posts, not kids…)

You could accuse me of cronyism when I include … by ste curran on the roll, since I am pre-aquainted with him too. But even if we had never met, I would still delight in Ste’s writing. I just would not be able to imagine the cheeky chancer beavering away at his keyboard, wiping a tear of neat emotion away from his RedEye. If they can behave themselves, the Triforce may get an entry one of these days too.

During the various happenings in Edinburgh this summer, I saw both George Galloway and George Monbiot speak on the same day. Galloway’s rhetoric has always entertained me, but there is nowhere near as much substance as Monbiot. If anyone should be ‘Gorgeous George’ its the latter, not the former.

There’s a couple more sites I have been reading recently, which I would like to add… but these five will do for now. No need to open all the Christmas presents at once.

Ghosts in the iPod, Dæmons in Google

Everyone knows there are ghosts in the iPod. These are the beings that live deep within the algorithms of the randomise feature. They tap into your thoughts, and play a song for you. The iPod ghosts, they say, will choose the track that suits what you are thinking. The ghosts will look at your reflection in the train window, and the view beyond, and pick a song that fits your mood.

The iPod ghosts do not exist to simply provide a fitting cinematic sound-scape to our lives. They want to talk to us, and tell us stories. They show us connections we have not seen before. The non-believers claim that iPod ghosts are just the bizarre connections you make in your own head, links that give the impression of infeasible coincidence. But any connection you make will be a product of your language, the things you have done, the places you have been, the books you have read. These connections, the iPod ghosts, are our culture, the ramblings of our ancestors trying to tell us something they have already forgotten.

Contrast the iPod ghosts with the Google AdSense dæmons. These are the malevolent creatures that are trapped in a JavaScript world, somewhere between your computer screen and Google Inc’s servers. The dæmons strike when you are at your most vulnerable. They look for important pages, ones that mean something to the author. A cry for help, a gesture of genuine solidarity, a long pondered social comment. The daemons find these pages, and sabotage them with a crass, inappropriate and ill-timed mini-advert.

Trapped in their bland, neutral boxes, the AdSense dæmons are the enemy of sincerity. They take those same thoughts that are incubated by the iPod ghosts, and taint them with a blind, amoral commercialism. Perhaps the connections they make are also our culture, the same ancestors laughing hysterically at what we have become.

Update

Andrew Sullivan has spotted a couple of AdSense daemons plaguing Mickey Kaus’ blog at Slate.

Chicken Yoghurt has sharp eyes, and has spotted an odd juxtaposition of story and advert. John Reid, Knifethrower.

Abolish the Cross of St George

Prison officers have been banned from wearing St George flag tie-pins. Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, suggested that the symbol could be misconstrued by Muslim or Arab prisoners… because the St George cross was a symbol of the crusaders. (via Popinjays and drunken blogging).

Another classic case of people not thinking things through before they try to help. Their statements are problematic in so many ways.

The first mistake is to equate an individual with the institution. A prison officer wearing a St George tie-pin (for cancer research, by the way) is not the same as the institution endorsing the crusades. Likewise, a teacher who wears a hijab does not convert the whole school to Islam.

Second, cultural symbols have different meanings depending on the person who chooses to wear them. One woman’s proof of mysoginy, is another’s statement of modesty. One man’s blood-stained crusade memorabilia, is another man’s gentle nod to Freddie Flintoff. In this sense, the St George Cross represents the corinthian values of friendship and fair play. If someone claims to be wearing the cross for those reasons, they should be granted the benefit of the doubt.

Take these thoughts a stage further, and they become more controversial. While we should allow badges to take on a personal meaning for the individual who displays them, symbols which represent a country or a community must have a shared meaning, and that meaning should be something that the entire population can subscribe to.

To emphasise the point, I must draw attention to a common flaw of logic, which ascribes attributes of the majority of citizens, to the country itself. Its an easy shorthand, but when we discuss national identity, it is unhelpful and wrong.

When Anne Winterton MP was condemned for saying she was ‘thankful’ that Britiain was predominantly white and Christian, she was condemned as a racist. At Clive Davis’ blog, Laban Tall said:

… would you consider a Kenyan pleased that his country was black, or a Jordanian proud of his Arab nation, to be loathsome?

My response was to agree: If we want to condemn Anne Winterton’s attitude, then perhaps we do indeed have to condemn a Kenyan’s pride in “black” or a Jordanian’s pride in “Arab”. They are welcome to take pride in their own ethnicity, but should they be ascribing that ethnicity to their whole country? Describing a whole country as “white” or “black” is an arrogant anthropomorphism on the part of the majority group. Calling a country “white” or “black”, I said, is certainly not referring to a country’s soil, trees, or borders… so it seems to be inherently racist to those individuals with the minority complexion.

Labelling a country Christian falls into similar discriminatory problems. According to the 2001 UK census, 72% of people claim to be Christian. This means that there are vast swathes of the population who are not Christian. Since church attendance in the UK is only 7%, and since parents respond to the census on behalf of their children, I would suggest that the proportion is much higher than the 28% yeilded of the census.

The numbers are not really the point, however. Even if there was only one non-Christian in an entire country, it would still be discriminatory and offensive to ascribe a religion to that country. A state is a different thing to its citizens. It is certainly not the sum of its parts. Calling the UK a Christian country is preposterous and wrong. It is therefore ridiculous that our national flags should be Christian crosses. These symbols co-opt millions of people into an ideology which they categorically reject.

So it is with other countries: Abolish the Scottish Saltire and redesign the Union-Jack; pull the asymetrical crosses off the Scandanavian flags; yes, pull the crescent moon off flags from Mauritania to Malaysia; and yes, pull the Star of David from the flag of Israel. I have no quarrel with Christian states, Islamic States and the Jewish State, save to say that they are figments of the imagination, which are an insult to demography and democracy. Let the individuals practice religion freely, and let them display the symbols that their conscience dictate. But let the state and its badges be secular and inclusive.

Back in the UK, a man is formally scolded for wearing a national symbol, in support of a cancer charity. But the suggestion that we change the national symbols themselves is met with a silent dismissal. Paradoxically, the one place where the St George cross should not be – up our flag poles – has become the only place where it is still acceptable.