Thursday, 25 February 2010
A swift half with Martin Luther
Monday, 22 February 2010
Saturday, 20 February 2010
Gosling, Glenn Beck and euthanasia
I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of Ray Gosling. I understand he’s been a great champion of gay rights, which I applaud. But to me, he’s always been one of those irritatingly quirky Radio 4 'characters' with the kind of regional accent that the Crispins at the BBC just adore, but whose quirkiness and regionalism often seem to be the sum total of his u.s.p. And the style of his programmes can best be described as whimsical. Whimsy is what Radio 4 does instead of humour: tune in any weekday evening at 6.30 and you’ll see what I mean.
At the same time, I have an instinctive aversion to euthanasia. Maybe it’s the lapsed Catholic in me, or maybe it's just the usual catalogue of fears about eugenics, the rights of the disabled, and slippery slopes. But I can’t help feeling a sliver of sympathy for Gosling, who has revealed in an interview that he once helped a lover who was suffering from AIDS to die. The veteran broadcaster has now been interviewed by the police, but has refused to disclose any further details. Listening to the news reports, I found myself silently cheering Gosling on, despite myself. You have to feel sorry for the detectives in this case, though: compelled to investigate an offence against an unnamed victim on an indeterminate date, at an unknown location, where the only evidence is the confession of a man who won’t say any more.
Or perhaps the ‘crime’ never took place, and the whole episode is a clever means of attracting publicity for the pro-euthanasia cause? Even if it did happen as Gosling says, there can surely be no selfish motive in coming clean now, and maybe the whole thing is motivated by a desire to advance the mercy-killing cause?
Maybe I’m being paranoid: but not as paranoid as Glenn Beck, who exceeded even his own reputation for fearmongering foolishness on his radio programme this week, when he suggested that ‘progressives’ in Canada plan to kill off those with a 'poor quality of life’ and that the Obama administration will soon be following suit. If you can bear it, listen to the audio version for the full unhinged rant.
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Gita Sahgal: defending human rights
Only the atmosphere of phoney war can explain how Amnesty International, once the most principled defenders of human rights, has shown the truth of Robert Conquest's maxim that "the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation can best be understood by assuming that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies". All it had to do in the case of Guantánamo Bay was stick to the idea that suspects should not be held without trial and without the protections of the Geneva Convention. Instead, it collaborated with former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg, whose Cageprisoners organisation promotes the supporters of ultra-reactionary ideals. More disgracefully, when Gita Sahgal, head of Amnesty's gender unit, and one of the most principled feminist writers I have read, complained that her employers were treating "Britain's most famous supporter of the Taliban" as a "human rights defender", Amnesty suspended the feminist and stuck by the Islamist.
Assuming that the far left has not taken control of Amnesty, and that may be a generous assumption, its managers must believe at some level that messianic religion is not a threat to the liberal values of feminism, anti-racism and freedom from tyranny they think they hold. To put it another way, Amnesty is living in the make-believe world of a phoney war, where it thinks that liberals are free to form alliances with defenders of clerical fascists who want to do everything in their power to suppress liberals, most notably liberal-minded Muslims.
I worry about what will happen when they realise that promoting human rights isn't a one-way bet, and that the Islamists they embrace aren't nice metrosexuals who support women's rights and want an end to bigotry.
Monday, 8 February 2010
The Pope, Cherie, and all that
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Everyone's got talent
What you end up with, inevitably, is a group of children selected on the dubious basis of teachers' subjective judgements and parental pushiness. Like the current system of secondary school 'choice' (in practice, schools choosing the pupils they want, not vice versa), it looks open and equitable, but is in fact deeply divisive, favouring the precocious over the plodding, the already well-supported and resourced over those whose 'talents' are slow in developing or in need of nurture before they become apparent.
And once you've selected your elite group, you divert previous teacher time and resources to providing them with opportunities that reinforce their 'specialness' and are, inevitably, denied to those who didn't make the cut. One day last year, my teenage son came from school and told us there had been a special seminar on applying for Oxbridge. The trouble was, he didn't get invited, since (although he's bright and does well at school), it was only for members of the gifted and talented group, of which he's not a member. I was livid. Having been a shy, late-developing teenager myself, one who would never have been noticed by anyone drawing up a list of the 'gifted and talented', and coming from a family where no one had ever been to university, I would never have made it into higher education, let alone to the Cambridge college where I ended up, if this system had pertained in my day.
The diversion of money from this wrongheaded scheme into widening access to university is one of the Brown government's rare egalitarian moves, and almost (but not quite) makes up for Peter Mandelson's Gradgrindian comments on higher education last year.