Posts Tagged ‘ Politics ’

ranthill: defining the political

so, riots.

and looting and burning. but, as every media outlet seems to be (either explicitly or implicitly) asking, are these events (in the red corner) POLITICAL, or are they simply (in the blue corner) CRIMINALITY?

aside from all the other crucial issues raised by the riots, the nature of this juxtaposition is well worthy of some reflection. it roughly maps, of course, onto the divide between left and right wing political philosophies and their distinct conceptions of the nature of history.

[before moving on, let’s pause for a small recap – so we’re all on the same page]

in line with the classic Liberal tradition, those on the right tend to emphasise the role of the individual and see history as largely directed by the exercise of reason or the will, and therefore tend to emphasise the importance of moral responsibility and social roles.

in line with the Radical tradition, those on the left tend to emphasise the role of the masses and understand history as a force directed by the movement of the people, and, as such, tend to emphasise the role of social conditions.

in terms of goals, the left tends towards the idea that equality equates to stability and flourishing, whereas the right tends to see these as best served by hierarchy and the rule of law. the left strives for equality of access (to social ‘goods’); the right, for equality of opportunity (to move up).

these descriptions are, of course, merely sketches of stereotypes, but they roughly define the boundaries of the philosophies that are in play.

and so we have seen in the responses to the riots in London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, Leeds and Bristol (i hope i haven’t left anyone out). those on the right have consistently downplayed the role of politics and sought to characterise the riots as a collection of illegal acts committed by individuals who will be brought to justice, oh yes. Theresa May, and her constant recourse to the language of ‘sheer criminality’ (a phrase she must have used ten times in two minutes on The Today Programme yesterday), is a good example.

the left-leaners, on the other hand, have generally wanted to emphasise the social conditions and context from which the riots have erupted, and Darcus Howe’s revealing contribution to the BBC News channel yesterday, or their interview of Ken Livingstone on Monday would serve as a perfect examples here.

it’s also not hard to see that, aside from the philosophy that undergirds their politics, those currently in office have a vested interest in downplaying political causes, whereas those in opposition have the opposite investment. given that a centre-right coalition holds the reins and a centre-left party stands in opposition, this dynamic is currently set at ‘maximum skew’.

the question, however, of the role of politics per se, is more complex than this. it seems fairly clear that the motivations of the majority of rioters are not explicitly political – these are not ‘protests gone violent’ – but does that mean that they are utterly apolitical phenomena in the way Boris Johnson or Michael Gove would have us believe?

in one sense, if you stop to think about it, how can they be? politics is not just about voting, the party system and banner-waving, it’s about everything that affects and impacts society. in one sense, everything is political, or should i say nothing is apolitical. however, speaking in more specific terms, any mass movement of people, any expression of dissatisfaction, any insurrection, any wanton group lawlessness of this sort must have a political aspect.

what seems to have gone ignored in much of the right-wing rhetoric is the fact that riots are an established phenomenon. Boris Johnson spoke yesterday as if what has happened in London over the last few nights was utterly unprecedented. yes, the role of social networking adds a small novel element, but a riot is a riot.

the reality is that these are marginalised people who languish under the effects of massive inequality – of both access and opportunity – and who have seen the escalation of violent crime, the spread of deprivation and the removal of social resources within their communities, and as a result the widespread asphyxiation of cohesion, pride and hope.

when young people who’ve grown up with these kind of realities sense an opportunity to vent their anger, their fear, their hopelessness, they do not write to their local MP on thick, recycled paper. they do not organise a march and paint brightly coloured banners. these people smash, and grab, and burn. they do everything they can to show their contempt for the world in which they live and at the same time reveal (somewhat pathetically) their desire for/faith in material goods as harbingers of ‘the good life’.

such events are called riots – they’re not new, that’s why we have a word for them. yes, they are made up of a mass of criminal acts, but does that make them meaningless?

remember St Paul’s, Brixton, Toxteth, Moss Side, Salford and Chapeltown in 1980, ’81, ’85, ’87, ’90? remember Los Angeles in 1992? do we think of these as meaningless, apolitical, criminal events, or as eruptions of socio-political discontent from members of disadvantaged, marginalised and otherwise dying communities?

for the last few nights, (mainly) young people have smashed, looted and burned their own neighbourhoods and those nearby, and what is more (and perhaps most disturbing to middle-class onlookers) they’ve expressed pleasure in doing so. “you can’t control us” a boy cheerily shouted towards a BBC camera in Croydon on Monday night – i wonder if he really believed that himself, and if so, if he’s ever felt that way before. i also wonder how long the feeling lasted.

we might not want to condone the acts of violence, theft and arson that comprise these disturbances, but we dismiss them as meaningless at our peril. the riots might not be explicitly political in the way a protest march is, but they are a manifestation of a political reality which, if we are to deal with the root and not only the thorn, demands a political as well as judicial response.

#xmasongs: day ten

well well well

it only went and came upon a midnight clear.

as i’m sure you’re all more than aware, as well as presents, turkey, baby Jesus and so on, this day also brings with it the conclusion of our ten strong round up of the world’s best festive music that we like to call #xmasongs

without further ado about nothing, it only remains for me to say a big happy birthday Jesus and glad tidings to all from and on behalf of all of us here at RQT, and to inform you of the winner.

those that did not make the cut include:

any actual carols
Frosty The Snowman
Winter Wonderland
the cheerful prelude to a Christmas rape It’s Cold Outside (sorry Roaring)

however, the winner is …
Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher by
Elton John


#tirednewsflash: headliners

good even-ing

and time for a wintery of the main news in urea:

– world “gone all to bollocks” admits Tutu

– Cowell counters Cage with 4’33” cover

– many students ferrel, claims Oxford MP

– climate change knocked out of top ten worries by impending gravy shortage

– bible “original wikileaks” preach desperate vicars

– It’s A Wonderful Life “too optimistic” for xmas schedule

– royal Charles caught in car with Widdecombe — why?

and finally

#ranthill: our duty and our joy

today, Jeremy Cunt the Hulture Secretary will reveal the latest scheme designed to ‘establish’ a hulture of philanthropy (and justify tax breaks for the rich).

amongst all the rhetoric of introducing an ‘American style’ system of ‘conspicuous giving’ that is floating around, it seems to have escaped many people’s attention that, like almost every aspect of American hulture, their system is an instantiation of a British notion from a bygone era.

“let money fructify in the pockets of the people” is one of the most famous catchphrases (say what you see) of one of Britain’s most famous politicians, and is indicative of the economics of laissez faire that dominated the Victorian period.

this is almost exactly the rhetoric that lies behind today’s initiative. however, you probably won’t hear Gladstone quoted (after all, this is the announcement of a new, dynamic policy) – but you probably will hear commentators invoking ‘trickle-down’ imagery, which is equally old.

the image conjured is something like a pyramid of champagne glasses at an expensive wedding. the wine is poured in at the top (the rich) and once (and only once) it has filled the glasses there, it ‘trickles down’ and fills the glasses on the next level. and so on.

of course, one aspect of reality not encompassed by this cheerful imagery is the fact that the rich have very large champagne glasses which take a long time to fill. imagine a pyramid in which the more elevated the glass within the structure, the larger it is in comparison to those beneath it – of course it’s a difficult thing to picture, given that, in reality, such a structure would be woefully unstable and likely to collapse at any minute (hmmmmmmm …)

this, therefore, was the big issue (pun intended) with Gladstone’s idea – deep pockets take a long time to fill and come into ‘fruit’, and in the meantime the people at the bottom starve.

it was in response to the economic failures of nineteenth century toryism and the shocking evils of early twentieth century warfare, that the British welfare system and the NHS were established. the logic of these institutions was totally different. government was elected to serve the interests of the people, as defined through engagement with the political process. government was entrusted, through taxation, with the money to invest in welfare and the provision of that which benefitted the common good.

taxation expresses a duty on behalf of all to each. it also binds each working person into the political system – each having a palpable interest in how and where their tax is spent. as our American friends know best, there is rightly a working relationship between taxation and representation.

what is more, tax is taken ‘off the top’ at the source. it does not ‘fructify’ (i.e. sit in off-shore accounts earning interest) in anyone’s pockets before it enters the mechanisms of redistribution. those in need do not have to wait for the rich to get as rich as they feel they need to be before they can get some help to pay their rent. the dignity of those at the bottom is not dependant on the charitable whims of those at the top.

this is precisely why people saw ‘tax and spend’ welfarism as the only appropriate response to both the legacies of Victorian poverty and the horrors of the two world wars. furthermore, during the latter, british people had discovered that working together – rationing goods, helping neighbours, each ‘doing their duty’ – actually made for a better quality of life, even in extreme conditions.

the world wars constituted a profound challenge to the idea that human beings are innately good. and thus the Victorian idea that, having been given the chance to make as much money as possible, wealthy people would naturally want to give some away to those in need, lost much of its purchase. people vividly perceived that humans can be good if determined and directed, but in the same way they can also be terrible.

don’t get me wrong, the British culture of philanthropism did many great things. many public libraries, schools, hospitals, parks and so forth were built by successful entrepreneurs for the benefit of their localities (although it was never quite as it is in America today, where every bench and tree bears a benefactor’s plaque). the problem was, that few people wanted to do the less glamourous work of helping the poorest survive day-to-day.

it was not the grand largesse of Victorian philanthropy, but largely the dutiful and sacrificial service of Victorian Christians that propped up the system where it was weakest – movements like The Salvation Army and the YMCA mopped up the rotten ‘fruits’ of Gladstone’s labour. and, while it is true to say that such movements were to some extent the product of charity, the fact is that the kind of charity they exercised was not primarily the trickle-down kind of the rattling coin jar, but rather the self-sacrifical ideology of Christian love.

taxation is not a perfect system of wealth redistribution, and it is certainly at the mercy of political corruption, but, personally, i’d rather live with a common purse hostage to the potential for democratically elected and accountable corruption, than allow the richest corporations even larger tax breaks and place that money in the hands of those who, by will and law, must serve only the financial interests of themselves and their investors.

no-one particularly enjoys looking at their already meagre pay-slip and seeing how much money they have ‘lost’ to tax, but in reality we should celebrate the system and see it as ‘our duty and our joy’ to contribute to the common good. we all want good public transport, quality public health care, good schools, competent public emergency services, decent levels of public sanitation and so on (all the things the Victorians mostly lacked), so we should be happy to pay for them, together.

what we should also want, however, having done our duty and made our contributions, is to passionately ensure that government is held accountable for the proper use of our money. that means voting, yes, but also writing to your MP to express your wishes, joining unions and pressure groups which lobby government, and, where necessary, taking to the streets to express dissatisfaction. each of these avenues for influencing political process to some extent or another relies on the economic mandate that comes from taxation.

if you hate paying tax, and are persuaded by the rhetoric being spouted by Cunt and others, then I would ask you to do this: take a detailed look at American society and politics. America has more billionaires then any other country on the planet, one of the largest accountancy sectors (frantically working to help people avoid tax) and some of the hugest tax breaks for the rich and powerful:

Do they experience less political corruption? Does the average American have more political influence, more say in what goes on on Capital Hill? Do they have better public transport? A better school system? A better justice system? Do they have less unemployment? Is their’s a more stable economy? Do they have less poverty?
and frankly, if you think they do, then why not move there? and please take the current government with you. as for me, i believe in taxes – yeah, now who’s with me?

… hhello?

#faithseeking: conversations with hauerwas

and with thy spirit.

Blue (Labour) Steel

for those of you who attend to such things, and more importantly for those who don’t, i would like to draw your attention to the fact that an audio file of the discussion between Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank > (classic photo) and Luke Bretherton which happened on 18th October at King’s College London, is now available (although unfortunately without the questions).

[thanks to Jason Clark]

in listening, my ears were drawn in particular to:

> Luke helpfully pressing both (but John in particular) on slightly diffuse uses of ‘catholic’, and the political significance of too much of an elision of the term with some abstracted notion of the church that transcends time and place.

> Stanley’s insight that serious writing, of any sort, not just autobiography, is about acknowledging your own death and death more broadly, and is thus thoroughly anti-Liberal.

> John’s reflections on his desire to ‘win’ and his identification of ‘winning’ with mission.

> The incessant clicking of a pen.

anyway, for your instruction, here it is:

#inspiringquotations: number six


“Most people don’t realise just how much of a burden beauty can be.”

>Margaret Thatcher

#admin: #showertune lives …

Dear You

as you might know, recently YouTube got together with all the major record labels in a huge, boardroomed evil lair and decided that despite the fact that the blogs and other video sharing platforms has been directly responsible for the successes of several now well-known acts, they would make it increasingly difficult for people to embed and share YouTube content that is subject to a copywrite claim (which, with regard to the ‘property’ of the majors, is basically done automatically as part of the recognition algorithms built into YouTube upload).

there was a first phase of this over the summer, which in the end didn’t seem to come to much, however the latest round of spoil-sporting and in-the-foot shooting came into effect last week. as you may have noticed, one of the upshots of this has been that the majority of #showertunes have stopped working.

i did consider burying #showertune in a memorial garden, but to be honest i was furious that not only had she been killed, but her life’s work was now useless, given that it consists of a host of links that no longer give rise to sweet music, but instead just a notice that says

the incident made me realise that due to its reliance on YouTube, the #showertunes catalogue (of which i am unjustifiably proud) has always been a hostage to fortune, and that it was all my fault. as a result, i have decided to keep the dream alive, and not only will #showertunes now be hosted on our own servers, but i have begun the lengthy process of uploading all the existing tunes and relinking them to their new homes – hopefully you should already be able to play all the ones currently on the first two RQT pages.

please bear with us as we go about this tedious, but ultimately pointless yet liberating work, and if you feel, given the amount of effort you know goes in, that you should probably get round to telling more of your friends about the magic that happens in this sleepy little corner of the interweb, then we would bloody love that.

thanks ants. thants.

#tirednewsflash: headlines

thank you

and now a summary of this morning’s main news headlines at 10s o’clocks:

bong: Cameron denies focus on middle class despite new tax relief in form of book tokens and nectar points.

bong: Robinhood Airport fined over “joke” about ‘rob from rich’ handling policy.

bong: Dick van Dyke ‘saved by porpoises’ after ‘falling asleep’ on ‘surfboard’.

bong: Inventor headlines without prepositions conjunctions, dies.

bong: “The irony is worse than the diabetes” claims Lord Sugar.

bong: “Are Milibands the new Krays?” asks Tory whitepaper. “You decide” it concludes.

bong: Tory-tower riot exposes difficultly of telling students from ‘nots’. ‘Debt hats’ proposed.

bong: U.S. entrepreneur Ira Lend to buy Ireland.

bong: Obituaries “out of step with instant news culture” claims paper introducing ‘predictuaries’.

bong: November sees most recent records since records began.

in weather: Cornwall.

and finally: Sociological study proves children from religious and atheist families actually co-operate better than vice versa.

#showertune: ‘give me your love’ by the sisters love

Monday’s child is fair of face

so, if you were born today, congratulations, you can feed, sleep and cry safe in the knowledge that you most likely have a easier life ahead of you than the rest of us, and that even if you are properly, properly stupid, you will be able to find work, if nowhere else, in TV, presenting for, QuizCall or ITV1.

speaking of which, wasn’t it great to see that couple captured by pirates and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi both go free? it made me feel good to be alive. a feeling which was washed thoroughly away shortly after when i foolishly broke my ‘never in this (pent)house’ rule and tuned in to watch Take That perform on The X Factor. here at RQT we’d all like to say a big “nob off Robbie, they were better without you”.

anyway, ever had a really bossy and insecure partner who is constantly demanding affection? well, today’s #showertune is a bit like what that might sound like – it’s Give Me Your Love by The Sisters Love


#idealog: lest we forget

An open letter by Siegfried Sassoon

published in The Times, 31st July 1917


I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.

I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects witch actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.

I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.

On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised on them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise.


The Grave by Don McLean
image: detail from Otto Dix’s War Triptych (1929-32)


#showertune: ‘i need a dollar’ by aloe blacc

Americans, that was not nice

i’m very disappointed in you.

listen, i’ve told you before, you won’t get nice things if you can’t learn to share. i want you to go up to your room and stay there and think about what you did, and only come down when you are sorry. no, that wasn’t long enough. and while you’re there, you can please tidy those things under your bed. right, fine, i’m happy for you to stay there all day – there’ll be no dinner and it will be lights out at 8:00, no excuses. listen, if i hear one more peep out of you today, mister, then you can forget all about Grandad taking you to the beach on Saturday, or going up in Mark Phillips’ dad’s hot air balloon in June. right, good – well that’s ok. look, you don’t need to weep and wail, just say sorry to me and then go and get it and give it James and tell him you’re sorry for not sharing, and that he can play with it for the rest of the day. yes, the rest of the day. you have lots of other things to play with. well maybe James will share one of his other toys with you? good boy, well done. see, look Jenny is offering you her bike to play on, isn’t it better when we all share. don’t be silly, it doesn’t matter that it’s a girl’s bike. say thank you. no, ride it for longer than that. those boys aren’t laughing at you, and if they are, then they’re just mean and you shouldn’t want to be their friend. right, that’s it, i think you can have a shower and then go to bed please. your ears are bright red, you’re overtired and you’re grumpy. no, no lego tonight. ok, you can have a #showertune – what would you like? no, we’re supposed to be calming down, not getting ourselves all worked up. i think we’ll have I Need A Dollar by Aloe Blacc


#showertune: ‘electric feel’ by MGMT

bon jovi

and how, as only Americans would ask, are we today? sadly, it seems that everybody’s favourite country, Yemen, is suddenly in the naughty corner. apparently there is one or maybe two inconveniently anti-Western people living at 15, Yemen Road, Yemen who have bomb making equipment which is undetectable to any form of scanner, and who want to use it to kill the president.

luckily, when they tried to do Justin That the other day, at the last moment the plane that the bomb was on disappeared from metres above The White House and reappeared seconds later at East Midlands Airport near Leicester. no-one knows how it got there, and frankly, given the fairly bad acting from everyone except the limping lesbian from ER, few people care. impersonally, i blame illegal aliens (and also metaphors with the sneaking subtlety of dyspraxic flamingoes in tap shoes).

i don’t know about you, but i’d say a war is in order. and, whatismore, speculation on that very subject has lead to perhaps the best lines of journalism ever written, which can be found on today’s addition of the Guardian online. and i quote


“In Washington, the US government was considering whether to grant the CIA far greater powers to select targets in Yemen for assassination by missiles fired from unmanned drones, despite mounting hostility in the country to such air strikes.”


just perfect.

besides the facts that their plot failed and they’ve probably given a country that loves few things more than wars – and is currently involved in a couple of boring, stalematey ones – a reason to make a new one on them, the news gets worse for the Yemeni scamps, as James of the Hewlett Packard customer support line confirmed to me this morning that putting a bomb inside any HP printer most likely invalidates the warranty.

here, have a #showertune: Electric Feel by MGMT


#blogjammin: discipline, death and don’t get me started

after devoting my attentions to the music lineup last night, Saturday was the day to plunge myself headlong into the beating heart of greenbelt_ that is the talks program.

i started and finished my stints of sitting and listening with two sessions with the inimitable Texan theological agitator that is Stanley Hauerwas, and in between took in the enlightening musings of, amongst others, Mark Yaconelli and Peter Oborne.

Mark is co-director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (YMSP) which (somewhat bizarrely) has turned endowments from the company that makes Prozac into a program to introduce young people all across the U.S. to the practices and ideas of contemplative spirituality. as one might expect, therefore, his talk centred around the relationship between action and reflection in the Christian life. drawing inspiration from, among other places, the story of the prodigal son, Mark highlighted a theme that i found would reoccur for me in Stanley Hauerwas’ later session, that of the creative potential and radical importance of spiritual discipline.

following on from the morning session in which he concluded expanding on issues arising from his recently published memoirs, Duke’s Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics presented his thoughts on the nature of the god to which American civil religion pays its homage. summarising his conception of the modernist, Liberal foundations of popular American theology by means of the phrase “the story that there is no story except the story that we chose when we didn’t have a story”, Hauerwas illuminated how the basis for spiritual discipline – along with, for example, covenants like marriage – is devastatingly corroded by the notion that humans are (and must be) free to choose who and what they are, and that death has become the ultimate, inconceivable scandal.

discipline, dear friends, was something i needed in spades during The Spectator and ex-Daily Mail political commentator Oborne’s ‘interesting’ talk about the nature and role of virtue in politics. if i were being supremely placid, i would say that i was disappointed (if not surprised) that references to Aristotle, Kant and MacIntyre were absent while those to Machiavelli and Plato flowed fairly freely. if, however, i were allowing the anger to rise once more, i would rant on and on about how infuriatingly reactionary, ill-conceived and poorly delivered the session was.

by means of a via media, perhaps i will instead focus on my sense that it was a waste of a good opportunity for a someone from a political and philosophical stable significantly distinct from that of the average contributor, to challenge a GB audience with something as well reasoned, well researched and well presented as it was, well, provocative.

all in all it has been a day of talks that has offered stimulations of various ilk, the majority of which were welcome and worthwhile.

#tirednewsflash: bless me father, for i have sinned


far from the obviously-guilt-ridden and hugely insulting gesture that many had predicted it would be widely and immediately interpreted as, it seems Tony Blair’s decision to donate several million of the, no doubt, pounds that will proceed from his forthcoming memoir, Love Love Me Do, to the Royal British Legion, has been largely greeted with puzzled indifference. what is more, as well as having been mentioned in some of the papers, former Blair’s decision has prompted others to do the same.

it has emerged today that fellow members of the St Gabriel Squash Club, Hyde Park Gate, Margaret Thatcher, Radovan Karadžić and Jeremy Kyle have all followed the suit by making similar commitments.

one third, it has been announced, of the profit made by Thatcher’s new range of Iron, Lady! electric irons will be donated to the upkeep of the National Coal Mining Museum for England in Wakefield, the north. And, on a neighbouring note, controversial former Bosnian Serb politician, comedian and escapologist, Radovan Karadžić, has promised that a “sizeable chunk” of the millions he accrued presenting NBC’s The Tonight Show from 1997 to 2004, will go towards the construction of Sarajevo’s planned mega-mosque.

monster, shatshow-host and sometime winner of Crufts, Jeremy Kyle, has likewise committed to redirect an as-yet undisclosed percentage of the money he recently publicly raised to help make obese, pre-teen benefit fraud and sexual infidelity, to a new charitable organisation setup to monitor and, where possible, slow the decline of the humanity of the audience of daytime television. the organisation, a brainchild of William G. Stewart, is known only as May God Have Mercy On Our Souls, or MGHMooS.

in a statement delivered to another news agency that we got half a wind of, Sir David Attenborough may have said “I just hope a measure of good comes of this as some kind of counterweight to all the unbelievable misery and destruction that these four human beings have caused the world.”

we have been asked to mention that Tony Blair is of course available for a whole range of expensive after-dinner speaking engagements including: Cricket Club End of Season Do, (public) School Fête, Blessing of New (Catholic) Church Roof, Dead and Maimed Soldiers’ Support Network Annual Ball, Local Labour Club/Rotary Club/Conservative Club Dinner, and so etc.


TiredNews™ bringing you the tiredest news around

“we’re tired so you don’t have to be”

#idealog: crises of capitalism by david harvey

anthropologist and marxist geographer Prof. David Harvey lectures to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) whilst someone draws.


#ranthill: the coalition of resistance

here at RQT we’ve read and signed the statement of The Coalition of Resistance

unusually for a #ranthill post, i’m not going to rant on and on, but i think it’s pretty important, so i heartily encourage you to at least check it out and see what you think.


to sign the statement and join the coalition, email:

(NB not

#vidiotic: eco-friendly soap(box)

i like David Mitchell. i wouldn’t say he’s got range exactly, but i think he does the thing that he does (the awkward, pedantic and unapologetically middle class thing) really well. he also seems like a nice person.

anyway, here’s an episode from his David Mitchell’s Soapbox series in which he shares his (pretty sensible) thoughts on climate change.


#ranthill: gender and distinction

the IAAF have today announced that South African track star Caster Semenya will be allowed to continue her career after nearly a year of official uncertainty about her ‘status’, and the results of the tests she has been forced to undertake will remain confidential.

problems began for Ms Semenya hours before she won 800m gold at the World Championships in Berlin last year, as a ball of rumours that had been circulating for a while suddenly hardened into an official investigation into her entitlement to complete in women’s athletic competitions. without ever being explicit about exactly what evidence lies at the basis of the suspicions (and therefore inviting speculation that it was simply a combination of her being fast, tall and broad), the IAAF reported that Semenya would have to undergo ‘gender tests’.

as you as intelligent RQT readers will be aware, the notion of ‘gender tests’ is a quite ridiculous one. despite what the IAAF thinks (and to be fair the BBC, The Guardian and almost every other news agency failed to correct them), in proper terms gender could never be ascertained by a test, given that gender is, as C20th philosophy and sociology has taught us, a fluid quality that each of us performs. in this sense, the term ‘gender’ is not synonymous with ‘sex’, which is what the IAAF really meant but was perhaps a bit embarrassed to say. in the simplest terms, ‘sex’ relates to biology, whereas ‘gender’ relates to social identity, which is why ‘gender tests’ is a nonsense concept.

the deeper problem, however, is that while a ‘gender test’ would be meaningless, a ‘sex test’ wouldn’t necessarily prove any more helpful. the issue is that while much of Western society continues to think of biological sex as being an essentialist and binary concept – i.e. a person is either a man or a woman – in reality this is quite far from the case. as the brilliant work on theology and intersex conditions by Dr Susannah Cornwall – my talented partner in crime and life (known to RQT readers as simply ‘The Dr’) – has shown, there are all kinds of experiences that disrupt this over-simplistic conception of sex, the most fundamental of which being that science is finding it ever increasingly difficult to find any absolute basis for the distinction at all. (for more info on her work, read Dr Cornwall’s blog here)

we can probably all see that sex cannot be determined on the basis of the external appearance of genitalia, because there are many conditions that result in unexpected relationships between external and internal apparatus. however, likewise, the best research shows that internal sex characteristics, chromosomes and even the size of gametes (considered until recently the only reliable location of sex distinction) cannot be relied on to give a universal decree as to the sex of the individual under consideration.

the IAAF’s decision not to publicise the results of Semenya’s tests might seem like a gesture of solidarity with the athlete (if a much overdue one), but in reality, the likelihood is that they feel they cannot release the results without also being specific about what it was exactly that they were testing for and how. if they were to publish any results, the decision that they have made would be open to all sorts of contestation, in this and any future cases. what is more, they would be forced to formalise the criteria that they themselves use to judge sex in terms of categorising athletes, which thus far they have seemingly been as vague about as possible.

whilst few of us would deny that on average male athletes tend to have qualities that make them stronger, faster and more powerful than their female counterparts, this is and has to be a matter of averages, not law. would Rowan Atkinson enjoy a ‘natural’ advantage over Serena Williams at tennis? while that might be a somewhat flippant line of argument, it also highlights the fact that there are all sorts of other aspects of human physiological and psychological makeup that function to distinguish the performance of athletes.

Michael Phelps might stand as a good example. he is built like a swimming machine: he has an abnormally long, thin but muscular torso, a massive arm span compared to his height (6’7″ span, 6’4″ height), size 14 feet and super-flexible ankles. i have none of these attributes, but if i were an international quality swimmer, could i legitimately expect an athletic body to regulate to distinguish between Phelps and me? in other words, should there be a category for people who have these or similar traits, and those that don’t, or would that be ridiculous? when compared to sex, the difference is a matter of frequency of the occurrence of advantageous characteristics, but one could argue that at the highest level that makes little difference – i.e. an examination of the differences between an averagely built male swimmer, an averagely built female swimmer and Michael Phelps might put the set of differences between the first two bodies into an interesting perspective.

of course one of the really fascinating aspects of Semenya’s case was the blatant fog of orientalism (or whatever the equivalent is in relation to Africa) that hung around the story. those who suspected that Semenya has an intersex condition regularly painted her as a country girl, who came from a deep-dark region of South Africa where such conditions are more widely found and as such constitute a ‘normal’ part of life. This racist and patronising discourse of ‘oh is isn’t her fault, she’s too backwards to realise she’s a man’ would be disgusting enough if it wasn’t also unbelievably ill-informed. Semenya might have grown up in a rural area, but she now studies at Pretoria University and works with their state of the art equipment, facilities and coaches.

i have only huge respect for the way in which Ms Semenya has handled the fact that her body has become the site of such a strange and political debate. she has consistently come across as a gracious, confident and highly focussed individual and i hope she goes on to excel in the sport and to be an inspiration for all people who find themselves in a similar situation. what is more, i hope that the IAAF are called to formally justify all of their actions.

#showertune: ‘your revolution’ by dj vadim feat. sarah jones

Julie Bindel has done quite an interesting piece about pornography in today’s Guardian, focussing on Gail Dines’ new book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. although I haven’t yet read this new book, from what i’ve read from her in the past and from snippets of an interview in the article, i have to say i’m fairly unsatisfied by Dr Dines’ approach. anyway read for yourself here and, if you’re interested in my objections, scroll down to read my comment (#30)

meanwhile lets all enjoy a #showertune about sexual politics: it’s Your Revolution by DJ Vadim feat. Sarah Jones


nb. this isn’t actually the album cut, but one of a handful of remixes that are out there – the best is DJ Nappa’s, however it’s difficult to get hold of.


#idealog: the inconvenience of dissent

look mum, i done a rant

a curious trait of our ‘liberal’ ‘democratic’ ‘culture’ has emerged from the damp smoking embers of last week’s election. apart from the blatant absence of any real understanding of/deep seated belief in our parliamentary democracy (“boo hoo hoo, why isn’t there a tory government when i and my friends all voted tory???!!!!”) the complex political wranglings initiated by the lack of a clear mandate have revealed an intriguing and seemingly un-Liberal shift away from the horizon of the individual.

in all the talk of minority government and coalition the (quite predictable) general desire – which is both reflected and ultimately generated by the mass media – has seemed to be for swift decisive and unswerving resolution. it has perhaps been no real surprise to the philosophically literate reader that when scratched away the neo-liberal paintwork of absolute choice has revealed an underlying desire for (and expectation of) diktat.

one intriguing aspect of the apparent paradox of the zealous desire to choose but equally potent disgust at divergence of opinion has been the apparent inability of the average social-networker, journalist or political analyst to grasp the key principle of coalition (which we might, if we wanted to push the envelope call ‘political community’). overwhelmingly the media rhetoric has been that of ‘strength and stability’ which given the current economic climate is of course no surprise. the surprise has been the apparent lack of an ability to perceive what politicians mean when they say – over and over again – something like “we recognise that what is necessary, above all else, is a strong and stable government”. it seems clear to me that what they are referring to is a political structure that will function to govern day-in-day-out over the next few months perhaps years – i.e. one that the individual MPs and members of the various parliamentary parties can actually live with and work within given the obvious ideological variation across and within the various parties.

what many commentators – be they professional or amateur – seem to be focussing on however is simply mathematics and naked power. numbers ruled election day being as it was a shit-storm of absurdly simplified statistics and meaningless on-the-fly extrapolation and now we seem to want them (that is the numbers themselves) to solve the problems for us. we are so used it seems to numbers dictating to us their own interpretation (or rather seeming to, while the hidden manipulators of the data remain such) that we can no longer treat numbers as what they are – tools for defining problems, demonstrating transitions and modelling interactions.

306 (cons) + 57 (dem libs dem libs dem dry libs) = stronger than 258 (lab) + 57 (lib dems) + 1 (green) + 1 (NIA) + 3 (SDLP) + 3 (PC) because 363 is a bigger number than 323 and bigger is stronger. or – put into words – gordon brown lost so he should sit down and nick clegg is the ‘kingmaker’ (a phrase i hope to never hear again) because he has the casting vote. the only problem with this reasoning is that these numbers irreducibly represent human beings with brains and eyebrows and toenails and convictions. a party whip is a negotiated tool not an absolute, assumed reality. attempting to let the numbers do the work relies on the notion that what we essentially have is three politicians who each have their gangs (who will do whatever they say). perhaps this is where the leaders debates led us with their unremitting focus on three individuals. we all forgot that very few people actually get to vote for any of those men and fewer still (0) get to choose between them at the polls.

the inescapably practical reality is however that parliamentary democracy relies on dissent not conformity, and that is why negotiating a functioning (i.e. ‘strong’) government needs be careful (and yes perhaps slow) work. we have been blinded by the logic of corporations into believing that it is unproblematic to think of companies of people as been essentially a single person. corporations think, act, sue and are sued like people – but they are not people. and they can only pretend to be on the assumption of effective hierarchy. political parties do not and should not work that way and neither should a society.

the paradox of the post-modern account of individual choice is that while endless alternatives constitute a positive, the ambiguity created by a lack of consensus in collective decision making constitutes a horror. what if we actually have to make meaningful decisions amongst ourselves? what if our choices need to represent foundational convictions and/or encompass civic duties? we are used to choice without responsibility, opinion without conviction and decision without duty. we are not used to having to know why we did what we did. we are also used to being and knowing political individuals defined by the ability to choose but divorced of substance – bodies and desires and beliefs (such are our private but never public idiosyncrasies). we can (and should) invest as much of our time as we like in personal development and self-transformation behind our closed doors, creating and dreaming about and investing in faux-dynamic narratives, but we should never look to change anything other than our own reality – that would be extremism. this is what thatcher meant by “there is no such thing as society, only people” – “shut up, mind your own choices, do as you are bid”. that is the iron hand inside the ever-proferring glove.

what i perceive in the media confusion and occasional outrage that has poured out of my computer, radio and tv in the last few days is in part the shock of political personhood. real people are complex and awkward and messy. cooperation requires nuance and negotiation. society requires polyphony. all of which it seems is an inconvenience to most. a coalition government with a small (and perhaps only ever theoretical) majority will require those involved to do actual political work. and not just once. but it will also require us as the electorate to follow the workings of parliament, to engage in the ongoing political process and to rely on more than just the ability to judge someone by their dress sense or media-awareness or how many celebrities like them.

there are such things as society, community, dissent and compromise. and one outcome of what most people seem to be hailing as a disastrous election might just be that we learn as a culture to fully embrace the work of sketching out, serving and celebrating that liminal, nuanced, mediated thing we call the common good.

#showertune: ‘the revolution will not be televised’ by gil scott-heron

don’t know

about you but this morning i need a reminder that the political is about more than just what i stayed up all night watching on tele.

#showertune = The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron

#lexigraph: animal adjectives

one of the most persistent urges in life – it seems to me  – is the drive to compare things to other things. i’m aware that my particular tendency for this is part unconscious personality trait to do with ordering and partly the result of my training in the academy wherein being able to perceive and rhetorically establish connections between things is highly prized.

however, i think it a widespread enough tendency to offer this post to aid people in their discussions as they watch various ugly politicians stand up to have their totals announced this evening. to that end, therefore, i offer you some comparative adjectives related to animals.

we are probably all aware of terms like feline, canine, equine, bovine, simian, lupine, porcine and so on – but here a few that might have skipped your attention:

formicine: like an ant

ursine: like a bear

apiarian: like a bee

pierine: like a butterfly (float pierine, sting apiarian [sic])

galline: like a chicken

cancrine: like a crab

corvine: like a crow

pulicine: like a flea

vulpine: like a fox (uh, vulpine lady, i’m comin’ a getcha’)

ranine: like a frog

caprine: like a goat

pardine: like a leopard

cervine: like a moose/elk

murine: like a mouse

musteline: like a skunk/stoat

acipenserine: like a sturgeon (touched for the very first time)

batrachian: like a toad (mr toad? at least start with him and move on)

vespine: like a wasp

vermian: like a worm

#tirednewsflash: fail


in the East London constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green a candidate is standing who bears the (presumably especially deed-polled) name of Mr None Of The Above. unfortunately for this enterprising and zany fellow his powers of thought and reasoning are not as vibrant as his collection of novelty ties and due to his having selected the alphabetically primal surname ‘Above’ he appears at the top of the list of candidates on every voting slip. belm


TiredNews™ bringing you the tiredest news around

“we’re tired so you don’t have to be”

#electionearings: vote for policies

#electionearings: still unsure who to vote for? frustrated that it all seems to be about personality instead of policy? check out  Vote For Policies – a website that presents you with just the policies of the major parties without telling you who’s who until you’ve chosen whose policies you like the most in a selection of key policy areas. why not give it a go?

(n.b.: just to head off any confusion this chart does not represent our results here at RQT but the average data from the site at the time of posting – if you were confused you should know that there is a maximum of 9 policies areas to choose from so less than 11% would represent an interesting result.)

#electionearings: who will win election? vote here

feeling discombobulated by all the spin and celebrity endorsements?

well here at RQT we’re giving you the chance to decide on who you’d like to win this year’s uk general election. you must be over 18 and a uk citizen to vote – votes from people under 18 and interlopers will not be counted but may still be charged. please check with the person who pays your council tax.

the results of the vote will be announced on the 7th may – thereafter you’ll have to lie in whatever bed you’ve made. all day.