mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
What I wrote on 25 April 2016:

"The Indians are playing a lot of shorter-format matches in the first half of this year, but they've got 14 Tests scheduled from June to December. Kohli is the only player who averages over 50 in ODIs and T20Is. My biggest hope for him is to become the first to average over 50 in all international formats. He currently averages 44 in Tests and if he can keep up this form and translate it into the longer-format, there's a chance of that happening."

After his latest marathon effort at the crease and with a match to spare, the Indian Test captain averages 50.53. In a year where the political and sporting outsider has challenged the orthodoxy, one legend-in-the-making has offered a constant reminder of all that is still well with the established order and the greatest iteration of its greatest sport. Thank you, sir, for the entertainment. Long may it continue!
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
There's an interesting short essay available for free from the London Review of Books authored by emeritus historian Dr Ross McKibbin dated October 1991. It reflects upon a re-assessment of the Wilson and Callaghan governments, in light of Thatcherism, and in anticipation of the general election that took place in April 1992. Two extracts in particular caught my attention, as each could easily have been re-written for the current turmoil afflicting the Labour Party. Plus ça change...

"The Labour Party has been peculiarly disabled in the last ten years because so many of its own members have written off its history. Thatcherism was in practice distinctly vulnerable to attack – but not by a party which had denied its own past. How people choose to ‘remember’ the Wilson and Callaghan governments is consequently something to which the Labour Party should urgently attend: only if they ‘remember’ them benevolently (or at least not malevolently) can Labour hope to re-establish itself securely as a governing party. Yet there is still no evidence that the Labour leadership wishes to attend: on the contrary – as Mrs Thatcher did with the Heath government – they seem either to pretend that the Wilson and Callaghan governments did not exist or that they were mistakes for which the Party must endlessly atone."

[...]

"If an ideological alternative to the Conservative Government is to be made acceptable to the electorate, both folk memory and the Labour Party will have to change their minds about the 1964 and 1974 governments and the Labour Party will have to do it first. The Labour Party has committed the cardinal rhetorical error of any political party by apologising for its own past: the Conservatives may ignore their own past, but they never apologise for it. Labour has done this partly because of the utopianism of many of its activists – to them the best is always the enemy of the good – and partly because of a certain timid and innocent defensiveness. Labour always plays the game by other people’s rules. A measure of this defensiveness is the extent to which the Labour Party is happy to be thought the ‘caring’ party but is plainly less happy to be thought the ‘competent’ party, even though there seems no logical reason why it could not be both. It thus apologises for the Wilson and Callaghan governments because the activists said they fell below perfection while those in economic and cultural authority said they failed. But there are entirely adequate justifications for these governments which the Labour leadership should start making. Although it seems scarcely possible, the majority of the electorate still believes that the Conservatives are more ‘competent’ economic managers than Labour, and this basically means that they think the Tories are more fit to govern. We can be fairly certain that as an election approaches this belief will become more intense – much to Labour’s detriment. The Labour leadership must, therefore, assert that the Wilson and Callaghan governments were more ‘competent’ than their predecessors and successors, which they were, and sound as though they mean that as a compliment, and also recognise that their policies, though indeed imperfect, were better suited to a sluggish, rather uncohesive society than the alternatives. They might then be able to argue that the rather rough-hewn social democracy with which the Labour Party is historically associated has worked very much more in the national interest than anything else we are likely to have. And that we are more likely to have a productive capitalism under Labour than under its principal opponent. A Labour Party which restores itself to its own past might, having perceived its strengths, accept its weaknesses: namely, that under our present institutional and constitutional arrangements its spells in office may be fitful and unrewarding."

If you read the rest of the essay or other writings by McKibbin it is quite clear that he isn't a Blairite (or Brownite) by any stretch of the imagination. As such, perhaps someone ought to send every Corbynista a copy of this essay to illustrate their folly in repeating the mistakes of the last generation by denying the many great achievements between 1997 and 2010.
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.
No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;
for there is in London all that life can afford."

~ Samuel Johnson ~

On Thursday morning I fly to DC, drawing to a close over nine years in the UK. It seems fitting for such an occasion to delve into the memory bank and recollect how things have changed since I first moved here on a sunny May morning in 2007...

  • Tony Blair was still PM, Ming Campbell was Lib Dem leader and Ken Livingstone Mayor of London.
  • A woman had yet to serve as Britain's Home Secretary.
  • It was legal to smoke in pubs.
  • £1 was worth nearly $2.
  • Kate and Wills had just broken up.
  • Waterloo Station was still the Eurostar terminus.
  • Free newspapers thelondonpaper and London Lite were still in production and you had to pay for The Evening Standard.
  • Steve McClaren was England's football manager and the national team had yet to play at the new Wembley.
  • Portsmouth FC, now in the fourth tier, had just finished 9th in the Premier League.
  • Mourinho was Abramovich's only managerial appointment.
  • There was no equal prize money at Wimbledon between men and women.
  • The Digital Switchover had yet to begin.
  • Britain's Got Talent, Outnumbered, Would I Lie To You & Only Connect hadn't aired; Parkinson & Grange Hill were still on.
  • The iPhone hadn't been released yet.
  • Spain hadn't won a football World Cup or European Championships since 1964.
  • Pep Guardiola had yet to manage Barcelona and therefore hadn't won any of his 15 major trophies to date.
  • Djokovic had not won a Grand Slam yet, Nadal just 3 and there was only one British appearance in a final since 1977.
  • Myspace was the most popular social network, Twitter was just a year old (with fewer than 700,000 users) & Facebook had 20 million active users (it's now over a billion).
  • Justin Bieber hadn't been 'discovered' yet, Lady Gaga hadn't released her first album and Taylor Swift was still unheard of despite having released her first album.
  • Jennifer Lawrence had not acted in a film yet.
  • And finally, a little-known African American senator from Illinois had just announced his candidacy to the US presidency.

I hope I return to Blighty 21 months from now. I'm sure the time will fly. But my life has not quite gone according to plan until now, so who knows what the future holds. What I do know is that my lifelong love affair with The Great Wen and all things British will never diminish. So long Great Britain and its great people, thank you for all the wonderful memories.

Signing out for the last time on this side of the pond (for now), this is That Bloke in the Big Smoke.
mcgillianaire: (Football player)
It's been a wee while since I made an entry about O Joga Bonito, but this season's English Premier League has earned it. I can't remember the last time when we were so far into a season (Gameweek 21 out of 38) and a team like Leicester City were still contending for the title. However unlikely it may still seem, the neutral in me wants them to go all the way. It would certainly surpass any achievement since the Premier League began (1992/93) and possibly eclipse the achievements of both Leeds United in 1991/92 and Aston Villa in 1980/81, because of their existing pedigree in English football. Of course, Blackburn Rovers won the title in 1994/95 under Dalglish, but they also had pedigree and their triumph was aided in no small part by owner Jack Walker's millions - the prescient precursor to the business model's successful replication by Chelsea and then Manchester City. No, we'd have to go back to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest - a fellow Midlands club - in 1977/78 to find the most recent equivalent accomplishment. Back then, The Reds won the league title immediately following promotion from the old Division Two - an extremely rare achievement in itself - and they remain the only club in Europe to have won more European Cups than league titles (2-to-1). I suppose even if The Foxes don't conquer the summit of English football, they'd take a place in the top four and entry into next season's Champions League. Even that would be an outstandingly incredible achievement. Goodness knows how excruciatingly frustrating it's been as a Liverpool fan aiming to achieve just that in the past half a dozen seasons. As another famous Scot might muse: Football, bloody hell!1

1 Bill Shankly quoted in the subject, Sir Alex Ferguson in the entry.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
Denis Healey, 1959 Labour Conference speech excerpt from his autobiography, The Time of My Life (1989):

"I pointed to the growing gap between the Labour activist and the voter:

    'Hugh Gaitskell was absolutely right when he said yesterday that what gets cheers at this conference does not necessarily get votes at elections. If it did we would have won Devonport [the seat which Michael Foot had just lost]. There are far too many people who … want to luxuriate complacently in moral righteousness in Opposition. But who is going to pay the price for their complacency?

    You can take the view that it is better to give up half a loaf if you cannot get the whole loaf, but the point is that it is not we who are giving up the half loaf. In Britain it is the unemployed and old age pensioners, and outside Britain there are millions of people in Asia and Africa who desperately need a Labour Government in this country to help them. If you take the view that it is all right to stay in Opposition so long as your Socialist heart is pure, you will be 'all right, Jack'. You will have your TV set, your motor car and your summer holidays on the Continent and still keep your Socialist soul intact. The people who pay the price for your sense of moral satisfaction are the Africans, millions of them, being slowly forced into racial slavery; the Indians and the Indonesians dying of starvation.

    We are not just a debating society. We are not just a Socialist Sunday School. We are a great movement that wants to help real people living on this earth at the present time. We shall never be able to help them unless we get power. We shall never get power unless we close the gap between our active workers and the average voter in the country.'

Thirty years later I am still making the same speech."

Roy Jenkins, BBC's Dimbleby Lecture excerpt, 22 Nov 1979:

"The paradox is that we need more change accompanied by more stability of direction. It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Too often we have superficial and quickly reversed political change without much purpose or underlying effect. This is not the only paradox. We need the innovating stimulus of the free market economy without either the unacceptable brutality of its untrammelled distribution of rewards or its indifference to unemployment. This is by no means an impossible combination. It works well in a number of countries. It means that you accept the broad line of division between the public and the private sectors and don't constantly threaten those in the private sector with nationalisation or expropriation.

You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade without being replaced either by an aggressive and intolerant proletarianism or by the dominance of the brash and selfish values of a "get rich quick" society. You want the nation, without eschewing necessary controversy, to achieve a renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose.

Betty Boothroyd on Tony Benn in 1981, The Autobiography (2001):

"Tony [Benn] proved a valuable supporter of mine when I became Speaker, and I acknowledged his seniority and his right to express minority opinions by calling him regularly to speak. But we were at loggerheads in those desperate times. Declaring my support for Denis [Healey], I objected to candidates who offered simple solutions to complex problems and who promised to transform society in a matter of weeks. 'In a democracy, political life is not easy. Nor, in a democracy, is intensity of commitment a substitute for the wider breadth of support needed to return a Labour government.' I mentioned no names, but did not need to."

Chris Mullin, A View From The Foothills: The Diaries of Chris Mullin; Preface, xii (Spring 2009):

"What kind of politician am I? Had I been asked when I first went into Parliament, I might glibly have replied that I saw it as my mission 'to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable'. But over the years I have learned that there is more to politics than that. If you are to stand a chance of forming a government and to do that you have to take with you a swathe of the comfortable. It follows, therefore, that in an age of majority affluence, any serious politician has to spend a fair amount of time attending to the needs of the comfortable. Today, if I were asked to define my politics, I would reply that I am 'a socialist with a small "s", a liberal with a small "l", a green with a small "g" and a Democrat with a capital "D"'."

Alan Milburn, Centre for Social Justice speech, 24 Jun 2015:

"Political parties have to exist for a purpose and so do party leaders. Without it they are nothing. Great leaders always have a big purpose. For Churchill it was victory in war, for Thatcher victory against a stifling state. For Blair it was victory against old-fashioned attitudes and institutions that held our country back. Today, to be blunt, voters are no longer sure what Labour is for. They do not see a compelling core purpose. In that regard we are not alone. Across the developed world, the Right is in the ascendancy buoyed by the collapse of communism, the grip of globalisation and the fall-out from the financial crisis. The Left has been wrong-footed, uncertain how to apply our traditional values in this new world. As always we get into trouble when we confuse the ends we believe in and the means we deploy. The one remains fixed - our commitment to fairness and justice, our insight that we achieve more together than we ever can alone. But the other - our means - has to be flexible if we are to succeed in the modern world. It is this calibration between what is fixed and what should be flexible that the centre-left has found most difficult to get right. And I think explains why across the developed world it has been losing more elections than it has been winning."
mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
I've just handed in the following essay as part of my Academic Writing course at Harvard's Extension School. It culminates a six week process of cumulative work, that began with three assigned readings on aspects of education. We had to pick one of the three readings and build our exercises around it. The essay below is my final product. I hope you enjoy it. I think it can form the basis of a longer essay in the future, and there is certainly room for improvement, but I am fairly pleased with the way my writing has developed, particularly in regards to structure and transitions that have been a longstanding weakness of mine. I would love to receive feedback from you guys too! Thanks for taking the time to read it. The essays in the footnotes are worth a read too!



Intelligence does not have to be schooled and education takes multiple forms. What we need as a society is a recalibration of the assumptions we make about knowledge acquisition. In "Blue-Collar Brilliance", Mike Rose, a research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, challenges the widely-held notion that intelligence can only be measured by the amount of formal education a person has acquired, while offering an alternative viewpoint that emphasizes the extent to which blue and pink-collared workers harness their intellect.1 He is right to challenge the status-quo, but even his well-reasoned argument falls short of extending the thesis to society at large, regardless of whether someone is employed or not. And that is crucial, because for many people intelligence is still a synonym for formal education, and the more letters you have after your name, the more likely you are perceived to be of superior intelligence. By simply extending the cognitive-franchise to blue and pink-collared workers, we ignore and deny the cerebral contributions of millions of stay-at-home parents and other less academically qualified thinkers around the world.

The assumptions we make about knowledge and intelligence acquisition have a direct impact on the way our entire economy is structured. Just look at the salary and wage differentials between those generally classified as white and blue-collared workers. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2014, the mean annual wage for lawyers, airline pilots and financial managers was roughly $130,000. But for electricians and plumbers it was $54,000, and $42,000 for truck drivers. While for other blue and pink-collared workers such as janitors, grounds maintenance workers, auto mechanics and waitresses, they earned median hourly wages ranging from just $9.01 per hour to $17.84 per hour.2 Under the present system, wages do not reflect the amount of a worker’s thought and effort. The perfect example at the other extreme is that of a stay-at-home parent who does not earn any wage at all, but you would be hard-pressed to find one who does not stop thinking about their work (i.e. their children/partner) all day long. And despite the wide gap in mean wages between white and blue-collared workers, both groups of people toil a similar number of hours at their respective workplaces. If anything, blue and pink-collared employees work longer hours than their more formally educated counterparts, sometimes fitting in two or more jobs in order to make ends meet. And no doubt their experiences are as taxing on the mind as it is on the body.

But are the best and the brightest truly more intelligent? And have they acquired more knowledge? I do not believe so. Take for instance my octogenarian paternal grandmother. Denied formal schooling beyond fourth grade, she has remained a stay-at-home mom her entire life. Married before sixteen, five kids by her mid-twenties (including losing two in infancy), forced to accommodate six orphaned children from her in-law’s family soon after, and widowed at fifty, she has been compelled by circumstance to constantly adapt to a changing environment. Without a degree in home economics, she learnt how to ration a fixed supply of meager financial and food resources for the enlarged household. Religion helped provide direction in her life and she imparted the wisdom gained from its parables to her children. Even today when I visit her in my father’s hometown in southern India, it never ceases to amaze me how everybody who knows her, irrespective of age, solicits her advice to deal with life. Indeed she is the epitome of someone schooled in life. Despite lacking a formal education, she has cultivated her intelligence by acquiring knowledge through daily experience and put it to use without ever receiving a penny. And yet the society we live in would dismiss her rich contribution to it.

Our assumptions about intelligence, work and social class affect the way we treat even our fellow workers. Consider the example of a nurse in my father’s hospital who assists with surgeries. Various surgeons, including my father work with him, and through many years of experience and observation, the nurse has gained sufficient knowledge to offer useful suggestions to my father during a surgery, particularly in the middle of a tricky procedure or sticky situation. More often than not, the nurse’s insight has proven significant. But when my father recommended the nurse’s input to a fellow surgeon friend, the latter was not immediately convinced. It took several further surgeries before he acknowledged the nurse’s potential and contribution. Had the nurse completed the academic qualification to perform surgeries himself and offer suggestions, there would not have been any hesitation on the other surgeon’s part to accept my father’s advice. Rose posits that “generalizations about intelligence, work, and social class deeply affect our assumptions about ourselves and each other, guiding the ways we use our minds to learn, build knowledge, solve problems, and make our way through the world” and he is absolutely right.

Rose offers several compelling reasons as to why we need to redress the imbalance in the assumptions we make about intelligence and knowledge acquisition, by outlining how blue-collar workers’ “use of tools requires the studied refinement of stance, grip, balance, and fine-motor skills” while specifying how “carpenters have an eye for length, line, and angle; mechanics troubleshoot by listening, [and] hair stylists are attuned to shape, texture, and motion”. It is high time we added to this list the millions of lifelong homemakers who also tap into their intellect on a daily basis by rearing children and keeping families together.

With all this in mind, you may wonder how we might recalibrate the assumptions we make about intelligence and knowledge acquisition? For that we need to identify why it is calibrated wrong in the first place. Rose argues that “our culture – in Cartesian fashion – separates the body from the mind, so that, for example, we assume that the use of a tool does not involve abstraction. We reinforce this notion by defining intelligence solely on grades in school and numbers on IQ tests”. William Deresiewicz, an award-winning essayist and literary critic, builds on this by describing how “being at an elite college, and going on from an elite college – all involve numerical rankings. You learn to think of yourself in terms of those numbers”, while adding that “one of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not”.3 And they are both right.

Even so, Deresiewicz concedes that “the advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable”. Yet, however incredible these elite institutions are, and however substantial the contribution they make to society, they also own a share of the responsibility for reinforcing divisions of people by class, occupation and intelligence. Deresiewicz hits the nail on the head when he says that “the problem begins when students are encouraged to forget this truth, when academic excellence becomes excellence in some absolute sense, when ‘better at X’ becomes simply ‘better’”. And that is the entrenched reality we need to overcome in order to redress the imbalance perpetuated by the prevailing system. One possible solution is to acknowledge, honor or even compensate those forms of intelligence that are not directly linked to formal education.

Yet attempting to change the way most people think is potentially a fool’s errand. But if we do not make any effort at all to change even slightly the way people make assumptions about intelligence, class and occupation, then life will carry on as it is and we will continue devaluing and degrading the contributions of millions – perhaps even billions – around the world. The onus is on us to make a difference, however small it may be. After all, as the sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher Laozi pointed out, even “a journey of a thousand [miles] begins with a single step”.4 We already know that there are different ways to acquire knowledge and intelligence. So the journey we need to embark on does not involve uncharted territory. It simply requires a reorientation and retracing of steps to a fairer and more balanced society. Is that too much to ask?

1. https://theamericanscholar.org/blue-collar-brilliance/
2. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
3. https://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/
4. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Laozi#Tao_Te_Ching
  • You should also read this thought-provoking essay on education by Louis Menand - another of the three assigned to us.
  • mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
    "One of the things that always makes me furious is the knee-jerk stupidity of saying that the Daily Mail used to support fascism, thereby implying that it is somehow tainted goods in its modern form. I certainly have my differences with the politics of the modern Mail, but it is blind prejudice to link what it published, for a brief period, in the 1930s to what it does today. So I was delighted to see on Anna Raccoon's blog last week a piece by Matt Wardman in which he presented a media history lesson. He omitted a crucial fact and I'll come to that in a moment. But he made two very important points - firstly, the Mail was not the only paper to carry articles supporting Oswald Mosley's blackshirts. The Daily Mirror did too."

    (Don't damn the Daily Mail for its fascist flirtation 80 years ago, Roy Greenslade, 6 December 2011)
    mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
    "But my father summed it up pretty well by saying, "Nobody in our family has ever voted Conservative, without a stiff drink before, and afterwards."" ~David Owen

    If a week is a long time in politics1, what about a lifetime? Tasked with the challenge of teasing out salient introspections from the life and times of some of Britain's grandees, is the contemporary political historian, Peter Hennessy. He delivers an insightful programme, as it launches its third series with the enigmatic David Owen. Having listened to several episodes, Owen's is among the best. I also recommend the one with John Major from last year. In all, Hennessy has talked to:

    01. Shirley Williams
    02. Jack Straw
    03. Norman Tebbit
    04. Neil Kinnock
    05. John Major
    06. Roy Hattersley
    07. David Steel
    08. Margaret Beckett
    09. David Owen

    And by the end of this series he will have interviewed Norman Lamont and Clare Short too. Each episode is either 28 or 43 minutes (depending on the series), with the latter forming the perfect length to explore a lifetime without inducing boredom and avoid glossing over multiple events or issues. But there are a few peripheral shortcomings. For instance, by the end of this series the uneven ratio of guests by political party will have been exacerbated to comprise: 5 Labour, 3 Tories, 2 SDP/Lib Dems and 1 Liberal. Given that Williams and Owen were also cabinet secretaries with Labour, you could question whether the breakdown was a matter of design, bad timing or lack of Conservative enthusiasm (I find this doubtful). This only matters because it's produced by the BBC. There's also the issue of gender ratio with three women out of eleven by the end of this series. And one other minor criticism about Hennessy's interview technique. When teasing out their reflections, he sometimes comes across as presumptuous, but it may have been an intended tactic or perhaps more likely, my imaginative nitpicking. Those minor quibbles apart, it is an absolutely fantastic programme and essential listening for the anorak.

    1 Possibly misattributed to former British prime minister and Labour leader, Harold Wilson.
    mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
    "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same"

    (Rudyard Kipling's "If")

    Every year for two weeks, the British put on the greatest show on earth. I don't care what anybody else says, but there is nothing as good as The Championships at Wimbledon. It's the (only) highlight in the British tennis calendar and the pinnacle of the sport. At once the game's oldest tournament and arguably its most innovative. It aspires a lofty, secluded status. It oozes class, largely upper-middle. And the British are only eager to oblige with a spectacle that smoothly links the stiff upper-lipped past with the dynamic present, leaving you starry-eyed and hungry for more.

    Everything about it is different. The name. The colours. The uniforms. The dress codes. The lack of advertisements. The surface. The traditions. Oh yes, the traditions. 1pm starts on show courts, except for the second weekend. No play on the middle Sunday. Strawberries, cream and Pimmsmania. Curtsies, bowed heads, royalty in their box. Inclement weather, early British wild card exits, ball boys and ball girls working like precision pulleys. But in truth it was not ever thus. Indeed the greatest trick the British ever pulled, was convincing the world that tradition could not be manufactured. And I'm not about to reveal our hand either.

    That is the beauty of SW19. It transports you away from reality to a land conquered by a select few. The true legends. And this year's edition was no different. From Serena Williams, to Novak Djokovic, Martina Hingis and Leader Paes, this was another vintage crop. It's twenty-four years since my uncle introduced me to the wonder that is grass court tennis and my love for the game has never diminished. I have also never missed a men's singles final since then and although my man fell short again today, it is worth recalling the immortal words penned by Britain's own Kipling. It adorns the doorway onto Centre Court and rings true to the way we should approach life in general. As the sun sets on yet another magical experience, there remains only one thing to say: Game, set and match!
    mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
    [SOURCE]

    "In Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules by a vote of 5-4 that capital punishment, as it is currently employed on the state and federal level, is unconstitutional. The majority held that, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the death penalty qualified as “cruel and unusual punishment,” primarily because states employed execution in “arbitrary and capricious ways,” especially in regard to race. It was the first time that the nation’s highest court had ruled against capital punishment. However, because the Supreme Court suggested new legislation that could make death sentences constitutional again, such as the development of standardized guidelines for juries that decide sentences, it was not an outright victory for opponents of the death penalty.

    In 1976, with 66 percent of Americans still supporting capital punishment, the Supreme Court acknowledged progress made in jury guidelines and reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.” In 1977, Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who had murdered an elderly couple because they would not lend him their car, was the first person to be executed since the end of the ban. Defiantly facing a firing squad in Utah, Gilmore’s last words to his executioners before they shot him through the heart were, “Let’s do it.”"
    mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
    This is what I wrote on Facebook yesterday afternoon:

    "Gutted about the result but congratulations to the Tories for an extraordinary victory. Did not see that coming at all. An absolute bloodbath in political terms for the opposition. A country divided unlike ever before. A broken electoral system. And an impending escalation to the austerity programme. I do hope the vanquished dust themselves off quickly and work together in every way possible to fight for the cause of social democracy. Unfortunately, the voices of liberalism are all but dead in this Parliament and worse still, perhaps for another generation."

    Douglas Alexander, Danny Alexander, Jim Murphy, Charles Kennedy, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, David Laws, Ed Balls, Nigel Farage, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. It felt like the political equivalent of that climactic scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone ordered all those assassinations while attending his nephew's christening. Lynton Crosby, like Clemenza before him, had carried out all the dirty work, leaving Don David Cameron to take all the credit and assume absolute control.

    Five years ago I voted for the Lib Dems and I did the same again on Thursday night. We've gone from our first stint in government since the War to the edge of obscurity. There will be a lot of soul-searching in the years ahead. The legacy of Jo Grimond, Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy lies in tatters. The rise and fall of Nick Clegg feels like a modern adaptation of an ancient Greek tragic hero. Yet, the optimist in me believes our day will come again. I sincerely hope so, particularly for the cause of British liberalism.
    mcgillianaire: (India Flag)

    An article from The Times on 25 January 1967. Maxwell famously declared: "Such are the alternatives that democracy has produced for the Indian voters in the fourth--and surely last--general election..."

    For three years, the people of Delhi have gone to the polls and on each occasion they have delivered a contrasting verdict. Despite the one-sidedness of today's result, serious doubts remain as to whether the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man) can deliver on its populist agenda in the national capital, while building on its comprehensive rout of the centre-ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP, by replacing the eviscerated Congress Party as an effective opposition elsewhere. But there will be time for post-election reality-checks later. For now, let us rejoice in the latest illustration of the Indian electorates' emphatic confidence motion in the wonder that is democracy. Three elections in as many years, yet the latest produced the highest percentage turnout (67%) in the National Capital Territory's legislative history. 67, a fitting number indeed. It all seems a far cry from the doom-and-gloom pronounced by Mr. Maxwell on the eve of the 1967 Indian general election. Jai Hind!

    #NailedIt

    Nov. 12th, 2014 09:15 pm
    mcgillianaire: (Bedouin in Desert)
    mcgillianaire: (Geetopadesham)
    Amartya Sen is arguably India's greatest living public intellectual. In 1998 he won the Nobel Prize in Economics1. His award was a matter of great pride for us Indians. But it wasn't until dad/I bought a copy of his 2005 book, The Argumentative Indian, that we became aware of just how knowledgeable Sen was about India itself, its history and its culture. We just assumed he was a dry financial-economist and another one of those foreign-based Indians, whose connection to the motherland merely consisted of his long-forgotten heritage and obvious Sanskrit-based/Hindu name. How mistaken we were. When I first read The Argumentative Indian about 7-8 years ago, I concluded that it should also be read by every other Indian, and ideally perhaps even by the world at large. Here was a text I had been looking for all along that put the IN back into India, at a time when it seemed like only Western Civilization had triumphed over all others in its rich and ancient dialectic tradition.

    Ever since I first read the book my admiration for Sen has grown leaps and bounds. His essays on comparing and contrasting Gandhi and Tagore's patriotism/nationalism were my particular favourites back then. And each time I returned to Muscat, I promised to pack the book along with all my stuff, but for some reason or another I didn't manage it until my latest journey back. It is utterly fascinating how re-reading any book (like this one) with the benefit of added knowledge and experience, brings into focus passages which I probably previously glossed over, and placed into the shade others.

    My only regret is not securing a ticket via the lottery to attend Sen's free lecture at the LSE last summer. Anyone who has listened to him recently will only be too aware, how difficult it has become to understand anything he says, but the sheer fact of being in his presence would've ticked-off a long-standing gap in my social CV. Indeed it appears as though I missed another free lecture of his at the LSE just a couple weeks ago. Hopefully he will be back again soon.

    Below I have copied an excerpt from the Preface which I think sums up the general tone of Sen's text and provides the reader with an introductory sample of India's (largely-forgotten/ignored?) rich dialectic tradition.

    1 Although not one of the Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, it is identified with them, and prizes are announced with and awarded at the same ceremony. The Prize in Economics (as it is referred to by the Nobel Foundation) was established in 1968 and endowed by Sweden's central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the occasion of the bank's 300th anniversary. (Source: Wikipedia)



    Preface x-xii

    Even though more than 80 per cent of Indians may be Hindu, the country has a very large Muslim population (the third largest among all the countries in the world - larger than the entire British and French populations put together), and a great many followers of other faiths: Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Parsees and others.

    However, even after noting the need for integration and for a multicultural perspective, it has to be accepted that these old books and narratives have had an enormous influence on Indian literature and thought. They have deeply influenced literary and philosophical writings on the one hand, and folk traditions of storytelling and critical dialectics on the other. The difficulty does not lie in the importance of the Vedas or the Ramayana, but in the understanding of their role in Indian culture. When the Muslim Pathan rulers of Bengal arranged for making good Bengali translations of the Sanskrit Mahabharata and Ramayana in the fourteenth-century (on which see Essay 3), their enthusiasm for the ancient Indian epics reflected their love of culture, rather than any conversion to Hinduism.* It would be as difficult to ignore their general importance in Indian culture (on some allegedly 'secular' ground) as it would be to insist on viewing them through the narrow prism of a particularly raw version of Hindu religiosity.

    The Vedas may be full of hymns and religious invocations, but they also tell stories, speculate about the world and - true to the argumentative propensity already in view - ask difficult questions. A basic doubt concerns the very creation of the world: did someone make it, was it a spontaneous emergence, and is there a God who knows what really happened? As is discussed in Essay 1, the Rigveda goes on to express radical doubts on these issues: 'Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? ... perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows - or perhaps he does not know.' These doubts from the second millennium BCE would recur again and again in India's long argumentative history, along with a great many other questions about epistemology and ethics (as is discussed in Essay 1). They survive side by side with intense religious beliefs and deeply respectful faith and devotion.

    Similarly, the adherents of Hindu politics - especially those who are given to vandalizing places of worship of other religions - may take Rama to be divine, but in much of the Ramayana, Rama is treated primarily as a hero - a great 'epic hero' - with many good qualities and some weaknesses, including a tendency to harbour suspicions about his wife Sita's faithfulness. A pundit who gets considerable space in the Ramayana, called Javali, not only does not treat Rama as God, he calls his actions 'foolish' ('especially for', as Javali puts it, 'an intelligent and wise man'). Before he is persuaded to withdraw his allegations, Javali gets time enough in the Ramayana to explain in detail that 'there is no after-world, nor any religious practice for attaining that', and that 'the injunctions about the worship of gods, sacrifice, gifts and penance have been laid down in the sastras [scriptures] by clever people, just to rule over [other] people.'** The problem with invoking the Ramayana to propogate a reductionist account of Hindu religiosity lies in the way the epic is deployed for this purpose - as a document of supernatural veracity, rather than as 'a marvellous parable' (as Rabindranath Tagore describes it) and a widely enjoyed part of India's cultural heritage.

    The roots of scepticism in India go back a long way, and it would be hard to understand the history of Indian culture if scepticism were to be jettisoned. Indeed, the resilient reach of the tradition of dialectics can be felt throughout Indian history, even as conflicts and wars have led to much violence. Given the simultaneous presence of dialogic encounters and bloody battles in India's past, the tendency to concentrate only on the latter would miss something of real significance.

    It is indeed important to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India. In resisting the attempts by the Hindutva activists to capture ancient India as their home ground (and to see it as the unique cradle of Indian civilization), it is not enough to point out that India has many other sources of culture as well. It is necessary also to see how much heterodoxy there has been in Indian thoughts and beliefs from very early days. Not only did Buddhists, Jains, agnostics and atheists compete with each other and with adherents of what we now call Hinduism (a much later term) in the India of the first millennium BCE, but also the dominant religion in India was Buddhism for nearly a thousand years. The Chinese in the first millennium CE standardly referred to India as 'the Buddhist kingdom' (the far-reaching effects of the Buddhist connections between the two largest countries in the world are discussed in Essay 8). Ancient India cannot be fitted into the narrow box where the Hindutva activists want to incarcerate it.

    * As is also discussed in Essay 3, the first translation of the Upanishads - the most philosophical part of the Vedic Hindu literature - that caught the attention of European intellectuals was the Persian translation produced in the seventeenth century by the Moghal prince Dara Shikoh, the eldest son (and legitimate heir) of Emperor Shah Jahan and of Mumtaz Mahal (the beautiful queen on whose tomb the Taj Mahal would be built). Dara was killed by his more sectarian brother, Aurangzeb, to seize the Moghal throne.

    ** See Essays 1 and 3 for fuller discussion of these and other examples of ancient scepticism and dialogic combats.
    mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
    Why UKIP is a party of extremists

    It's not often one agrees with a Tory, or worse still, freely and publicly admit to it. But on this occasion I've made an exception because Matthew Parris has largely articulated what I think of the Great British public's latest political squeeze:

    "The spirit of Ukippery is paranoid. It distorts and simplifies the world, perceiving a range of different ills and difficulties as all proceeding from two sources: foreigners abroad, and in Britain a ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ (typically thought to be in league with foreigners). None of the problems it identifies (with immigration, with EU bureaucracy, with the cost of the EU, with the ambitions of some Europeanists, with political correctness, with health-and-safety, with human rights legislation etc) are anything less than real; but to the un-extremist mind they need to be tackled ad hoc, one by one, rather than seen as the hydra-headed expression of a single monster.

    Very well, you ask, if immigration/foreigners/Brussels are not the overwhelming cause of the problems of modern Britain, what is? I would reply that there is no overwhelming cause, but many: some insoluble. I’d number among these a general decadence arising from nearly 70 years of peace, security and rising incomes. The uncompetitiveness that renders us easy prey for the manufactories of, not Europe, but China and the developing world; the levels of welfare provision that rob indigenous Britons of hunger to work (not the poor immigrants who then take the work)… but this analysis lays many of our problems at the door of many of the voters attracted to Ukip, and is of less interest to the party.

    It is the single-cause, single-prism, single-root-explanation way of interpreting the world and its sorrows (a way of thinking and seeing that has its attraction to all human beings) that leads to (or is the fount of) extremism: it is one of the reasons religion, with its forces-of-evil focus, has so often led people that way."

    You can read the rest of the article here. To me, UKIP is the acceptable face of xenophobia. And because it's the first such party to shake up mainstream politics, in a way that the far-right could only dream of, it's attracted many of their supporters. Those of us who do not identify with such politics should be worried, because UKIP is led by an ambitious, able and articulate leader, Nigel Farage. To outward appearances, he seems a perfectly reasonable English gentleman. Only some of that is true. He's certainly English and he's probably a gentleman, but he's definitely not reasonable. He may not be preaching to the lowest common denominator, but it's awfully close to it. It's still demagoguery and it appeals to our worst instincts.
    mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
    Here's an excerpt from the speech of a most fascinating politician, that eventually paved the way for the formation of the Social Democratic Party in 1981, and eventually, New Labour in the 1990s. At the time, Jenkins had been out of Parliament for three years and was working in Brussels as Britain's first and only (to date) President of the European Commission. Charles Kennedy later said of the lecture: "Every so often in life, you hear someone articulate your own thoughts - and they do so with an elegance and eloquence which make you wish you had been able to say it yourself. Roy Jenkins's Dimbleby Lecture of 1979 had that effect on me." Even today, this particular passage rings true as much as it did back then:

    "The paradox is that we need more change accompanied by more stability of direction. It is a paradox but not a contradiction. Too often we have superficial and quickly reversed political change without much purpose or underlying effect. This is not the only paradox. We need the innovating stimulus of the free market economy without either the unacceptable brutality of its untrammelled distribution of rewards or its indifference to unemployment. This is by no means an impossible combination. It works well in a number of countries. It means that you accept the broad line of division between the public and the private sectors and don't constantly threaten those in the private sector with nationalisation or expropriation.

    You also make sure that the state knows its place, not only in relation to the economy, but in relation to the citizen. You are in favour of the right of dissent and the liberty of private conduct. You are against unnecessary centralisation and bureaucracy. You want to devolve decision-making wherever you sensibly can. You want parents in the school system, patients in the health service, residents in the neighbourhood, customers in both nationalised and private industry, to have as much say as possible. You want the nation to be self-confident and outward-looking, rather than insular, xenophobic and suspicious. You want the class system to fade without being replaced either by an aggressive and intolerant proletarianism or by the dominance of the brash and selfish values of a "get rich quick" society. You want the nation, without eschewing necessary controversy, to achieve a renewed sense of cohesion and common purpose."

    You can read other extracts of the speech here and here, but I'm not sure if the latter link is a copy of the whole lecture. If anyone knows of a better link or has access to the full speech, I would much appreciate it.
    mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
    Every Sunday at 10pm, Carolyn Quinn presents Westminster Hour on BBC Radio 4. For the past five weeks, she has filled a fifteen minute segment before What the Papers Say, with a fascinating profile into the careers of five 20th-century British politicians who "made the weather". The phrase was invented by Winston Churchill in reference to Joseph Chamberlain, the former Colonial Secretary, of whom he wrote, that although he never became Prime Minister, he still managed to play a crucial role in shaping the political agenda of his day. The profiles have been chosen by Vernon Bogdanor*, one of Britain's foremost constitutional experts, as part of a lecture series under this entry's subject title, at London's Gresham College.

    Founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, an English merchant and financier who founded the Royal Exchange in 1568, the College plays host to over 140 free public lectures each year. In this six-part series, Bogdanor has profiled the political careers of Aneurin Bevan, Iain Macleod, Roy Jenkins, Enoch Powell, Tony Benn and Sir Keith Joseph. All the lectures at the College have already been delivered, while the last segment on Joseph will air this Sunday on Radio 4.

    Depending on your interest and/or time, you can listen to the condensed segments from Radio 4 here, if not you can watch, listen, download and even read the full-length lectures at Gresham College here. As a keen student of British politics, these lectures have been thoroughly informative and enjoyable. Bogdanor is undoubtedly an engaging and fluent speaker. He has also clearly researched his material thoroughly. Without giving too much away, one of the most fascinating things I learnt was how Tony Benn had started off as a Labour-centrist or even Labour right-winger, actively supporting and voting for Hugh Gaitskell to become leader in the 1950s, before gradually shifting (permanently) to the hard-left only in the 1970s.

    On a more general note, it is indeed incredible the amount of free and easily accessible online multimedia content that we have at our disposal on our politicians. Whether it be a peek into their personal lives on Desert Island Discs, a meeting with their younger self through Archive on 4, their biography by an admirer on Great Lives, a secret memo released via UK Confidential, or a BBC Archive recording, there is an incredible body of material to choose from. And that's just radio content. Add to it these lectures, other Gresham College lectures, other freely available public lectures, BBC documentaries, Channel 4 documentaries and the BBC Parliament channel, and you've got a lifetime's worth of political programming.

    (* Bogdanor's most famous former student at Oxford University is the current PM David Cameron, whom he has described as "one of the ablest" students he has taught, whose political views were "moderate and sensible Conservative".)
    mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
    "The campaign to set up the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes against humanity involved NGOs’ organising international conferences and meetings, supporting Southern CSOs and State participation in the process through funding and information dissemination, and lobbying throughout many countries, including lobbying US Congress and the EU Parliament. The result was the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 17 July 1998, ratified by 120 states and finally coming into force on 1 July 2002. The international system would not have been sufficiently equipped to bring to justice those, such as Slobodan Milosevic, responsible for human atrocities, without this success on the part of NGOs." [LINK]
    mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
    I thought the best way to commemorate this occasion would be to share an excerpt from my favourite speech by the Father of the Nation. It was delivered on 18 March 1922 at Ahmedabad Sessions Court where Gandhi pleaded guilty to the charge of “bringing or attempting to excite disaffection towards His Majesty’s Government", an offence punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. The offence arose from three articles written by Gandhi in his weekly journal Young India. The speech formed part of Gandhi's oral and written statement to the court on the question of sentence. Gandhi represented himself but it mattered little as he did not seek to defend himself against the charges. For those of you who have seen Richard Attenborough's Oscar winning movie, Gandhi, starring Ben Kingsley as the Mahatma, you may recall a truncated though moving court scene in which the presiding judge (an Englishman) imposes the maximum penalty of six years for sedition, with the caveat that if at some future date His Majesty's Government saw fit to reduce the term, "no one would be better pleased than I". Gandhi's greatness lay in the fact that he submitted to the full force of English law while pursuing his fight for independence by preaching nothing but non-violence and non-cooperation. As Albert Einstein once said, "Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth."
      "Section 124 A, under which I am happily charged, is perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen. Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system, one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence. But the section under which mere promotion of disaffection is a crime. I have studied some of the cases tried under it; I know that some of the most loved of India’s patriots have been convicted under it. I consider it a privilege, therefore, to be charged under that section. I have endeavored to give in their briefest outline the reasons for my disaffection. I have no personal ill-will against any single administrator, much less can I have any disaffection towards the King’s person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system. And it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in evidence against me.

      In fact, I believe that I have rendered a service to India and England by showing in non-co-operation the way out of the unnatural state in which both are living. In my opinion, non-co-operation with evil is as much a duty as is co-operation with good. But in the past, non-co-operation has been deliberately expressed in violence to the evil-doer. I am endeavoring to show to my countrymen that violent non-co-operation only multiples evil, and that as evil can only be sustained by violence, withdrawal of support of evil requires complete abstention from violence. Non-violence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here, therefore, to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is deliberate crime, and what appears to me to be the highest duty of a citizen. The only course open to you, the Judge and the assessors, is either to resign your posts and thus dissociate yourselves from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil, and that in reality I am innocent, or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country, and that my activity is, therefore, injurious to the common weal." (Source)
    I think one can draw parallels between Gandhi and America's Founding Fathers, both of whom held a deep reverence for English common law, yet felt successive English governments had abused the principles upon which the English constitution was based, to a point beyond repair both in America and in India. Indeed until the Amritsar Massacre of 1919, Gandhi accepted British rule in India. But the sequence of events leading up to the massacre convinced him, like similar events in America in the 18th century, that India would be better-off without the British. Independence arrived nearly thirty years later. Less than six months later Bapu died. I leave you with the words of American journalist, Edward R Murrow, "Mahatma Gandhi was not a commander of great armies nor ruler of vast lands. He could boast no scientific achievements or artistic gift. [He] died as he had always lived - a private man without wealth, without property, without official title or office."
    mcgillianaire: (Cricket Stumps)
    "If he doesn't score in the final Test, I'd say it's high time they dropped him for a youngster who deserves an opportunity and time to settle into Test cricket. Dravid's demise has been apparent for a while but I never realized just how bad it was. Even his strike rate, which was already among the slowest in world cricket, has taken a dip. Is this the end of the road for one of India's greatest batsman?" [LINK]

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