March 14th, 2004


(no subject)

I'm quite remarkably fed up with people claiming that Labour and the Conservatives are exactly the same.  Here are some interesting figures from The Guardian which show how they quite definitely aren't...

The actions of this Robin Hood Chancellor have certainly benefited poorer Britons at the expense of the rich. The calculations of the Institute for Fiscal Studies - the respected independent think tank - have shown that Brown's measures have cost the richest tenth of the population around 3.4 per cent of their houeshold's disposable income, or around £1,600 per year.

The poorest third of the population have seen their income increase by between 12 and 15 per cent as a result of measures directly attributable to Gordon Brown's Budgets. In cash terms, this has meant a gain of about £1,000 per year.

Because even the 'almost very rich' - the second richest tenth of the population - have been relatively unscathed by our fearless fiscal outlaw, losing out to the tune of around £312 per year.

'Pensioners, and families with children, are the biggest gainers from the Brown years, especially those on lower incomes,' says Wakefield.

Non-earning couples with children have been the biggest winners from Brown's package of tax credits, gaining about £2,600 over the course of a year. Single parents have hauled in just under £1,500 because of Brown's measures, and pensioners just over £1,000.

The redistributive pattern is echoed in property taxes.

The latest IFS figures show that, of the £1.2 billion extra raised by the Chancellor's overall changes to stamp duty, £825 million has been paid by the richest 30 per cent of the population. About £450m is attributable to the richest tenth.

Most of this redistribution has been done without ever registering in the threatened tax revolt from 'middle Britain'.

Those concerns have instead coalesced around fiscal drag - the rapid acceleration in the number of people paying the 40p rate of tax. When Brown came to office there were just over two million higher-rate taxpayers. Today there are 3.25 million - an increase of 9 per cent per year over the seven years of Brown's chancellorship.

But defining a higher-rate taxpayer as 'middle Britain' is a bit like saying that Canary Wharf is an average tower block.

'Higher-rate taxpayers do not generally come from the middle of the income distribution, but are drawn almost exclusively from the top third, and mainly from the richest tenth,' points out Wakefield.

On muslims in France.

From a fantastic piece here on the journal of Momus.

A debate between London mayor Ken Livingstone and French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin about the french decision to ban the islamic hijab in schools made me think again about 'pretentious universalism'. It struck me as a debate between a pretentiously universalist liberalism (Livingstone) and a modestly situated illiberalism (Raffarin). Raffarin says that the french state is secular, and wants to outlaw all provocative and divisive religious affiliations in schools. Livingstone says that religion is an important part of cultural identity, and that the display of religious customs enhances tolerance and acceptance of other cultures.

Raffarin's position is a strong one to the extent that it acknowledges that the state is not neutral on religion: the state is secular in an intolerant way, suggesting that secularism is itself a sort of religion. This is an important step away from the pretension of universalism, which always tries to portray itself as neutral and global. Raffarin says 'Here, in a french school, we are french, and secular. If you come here, be as french and as secular as we are'. He knows that power abhors a vacuum. The choice for Islamic women is not between 'what France wants us to wear and what we want to wear', but between 'what France wants us to wear and what Islam wants us to wear.' Between two powerful particularities, in other words, with no neutral ground. And just as there is no neutral ground where a woman can be a women free of cultural constructions of her freedom or obligation, so there is no neutral place in french society where the foreigner can be 'other' in a simple and harmless way. In a country notably intolerant of difference, the only alternative to integration is mortal danger. I don't want to believe this view -- I very much want a society of co-existent differences, of pluralism -- but history teaches me that I cannot dismiss it. I cannot get complacent.

My reply reads:

Raffarin says that the hijab "reflects the lowly staus of women", but that's a purely secular perspective and one that ignores the way that the hijab is seen internally to Islam.  He's behaving in the manner of one who sees no need to engage with his enemies, as they are obviously in the wrong.  That's not generally the way to get what you want unless you have vastly more power than your opposition.

And while, yes, the west's liberal capitalism is definitely coloured (and textured and probably flavoured) it's a flavour that _in many ways_ respects the rights of people to be different.  It doesn't (largely) see things in dichotomies, but in ranges and options.  We're slowly becoming a postmodernist culture where everything is seen in terms of the small, local narrative and the appreciation that there is no overarching viewpoint.  Which is, of course, another kind of overarching viewpoint, one in direct opposition to bloc-thought authoritarian ideals that tell people how to live. 

There's a great schism in western society between those who believe that we are all free agents, able to make our own minds up and deal with the world in a cool, logical way and those who believe that we are culturally controlled, subject to the whims of those who control our environment.  To the former all that is necessary for freedom is to remove authoritarian control over our lives (as Livingstone wants to do), to the latter the state is a necessary buffer, providing a safe haven and control over the negative influence of memes that would prevent our happiness and freedom ( as Raffarin does).  Without overwhelming empirical evidence either way the approach of one group is always going to look like madness to the other.

Personally, I sit somewhere in the middle, tending towards freedom of speech, but aware that our environment definitely affects us and as such occasionally has to be controlled if it's not going to be used as a weapon against us.  I'm just wary of the cure being worse than the disease - nobody, after all, wants _their_ speech controlled.

Jesus, you'd think I'd been up for more than half an hour.  Oh, and you can tell I've been reading introductions to postmodernism recently, can't you?  It's not sufficiently integrated into my thought patterns for it to come out as much more than repetition of the phrases in the book.  Tends to happen to me when I've been reading something that made a strong impression.  I've been re-reading LOTR recently and I keep finding myself thinking in Tolkein-esque english.  Brrrrr.

(no subject)

I don't think university education is for everyone.  It may be possible to make it so, with the right education techniques, but we actually need vastly mpre plumbers, electricians, mechanics, etc. than we have at the moment.  Which is why I think this is a good thing:

'No dropping out at 16, every young person either staying on in the sixth form or on a modern apprenticeship or job-related training leading to a good career.

'In effect, we want to make irrelevant the official school leaving age of 16. We want every young person to want to stay in education or training until they are at least 18 or 19, developing their talents to the full.'

from a Labour speech yesterday.

Request for Help

The version of Blue Monday that I like, I have now discovered is _not_ the original New Order one, or the Orgy one (both of which were popular on eMule).  Does anyone have any idea what the one that sounds a lot like the original, only heavier, is?

Update: It might be the Marilyn Manson version. Which is pretty embarassing, but there ya go.

Bathroom Joy!

Ed's been busy.  Not only has the floor been replaced in the bathroom, but the walls were stripped, sandpapered, filled and painted, new tiles were put around the sink and, as you can see from the pictures, he even put the toilet seat down.
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calvin dancing

Note from Ed:

It took about a week to do. The Kitchen is nearly finished. You guys out there have power over Andy- make him let me strip the floorboards in the hallway! [It's not like I'm going to stripe them orange and purple]

(no subject)

In July of last year I was leant out to a different team.  I was supposed to there for three months.  Then that was extended to 6 months.  Then 9 months.  And I finally actually left them on Friday.

At 3:30 I caught the manager out of the corner out of my eye.  Turning on my chair to see what she wanted I noticed the rest of the team standing behind her in a semicircle.  All 20-odd of them.  At which point I blushed heavily.

When she told me they'd really appreciated having me there and handed me a card and a leaving present my whole body blushed.  Literally - I felt my entire body glow and I'm sure I brokle into a sweat.  I panicked slightly, said something utterly unmemorable that completely failed to express the fact that I was extremely happy to have worked with them for 9 months (well, for the most part) and felt horribly awkward and embarassed.

And then I spent the following 5 hours with a huge grin on my face.

I'm off to California in 10 hours.  When I get back I'm returning to my 'real team'.  I'm sorry to be leaving my current team, but I've learned a lot, and hopefully things will go well on my return.  I'm even looking forward to it a bit.

Just to reiterate

I'm off to California in 10 hours.

[Does happy dance]

I'll hopefully be able to grab my email intermittently, and will make contact with some of you while I'm over there.

LJ will undoubtably be less common, so if something important happens that I should know about, let me know via email.

Love to you all!