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Mr Grumpy can now be found posting at

Monday, October 16, 2006

A truth universally acknowledged

Two weeks away from the computer, followed by a week ploughing through a fortnight's worth of postings on my favourite blogs. Maybe I should just get a life instead?

If you think things look a bit different here, that's because I've upgraded to Blogger beta. Most of the benefits accrue to me rather than you, dear reader, but I have at least assiduously compiled a subject index for you.

Here's something from Norm which caught my eye: find out which Jane Austen character you are. Well, who else should Mr Grumpy be but Mr Darcy? Honest! OK, I admit I'm irresistible in a wet shirt. But, sorry, girls, the Mistress of Grumberley is already in post. And anyway, would you really want to spend the rest of your life with someone who defines his identity by being a miserable git at parties?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What are we doing to our kids (postscript)

'A frozen food firm has set up an interactive lesson to teach children that chips come from potatoes.'


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Domestic

Here's a story that made me think a bit. Regarding the religious angle I need only say that it makes me even less inclined than I was before to watch the Gibson film.

But consider this: a couple argue. It gets heated. She retreats to the bedroom. He follows her and tries to tear off her wedding ring and her watch. She reacts by grabbing his neck but lets go before it gets dangerous, leaving him with nothing more than red marks on his neck and a graze on his forehead.

Who, if anyone, would be facing an assault charge? Isn't his attempt to pull off her ring and watch the point at which it tips over into violence (I'd certainly feel assaulted if someone did that to me)? Wouldn't she therefore have little difficulty representing her reaction as an understandable one in the face of threatening behaviour (which according to the Home Office constitutes domestic violence in itself)?

And wouldn't sending both of them on an anger management course be a more constructive, cost-effective and compassionate approach than prosecuting either?

I don't know the answers to my questions. But I do know now that that's not how it works when the roles are reversed. Melanie Phillips has often cited evidence that domestic violence incidents are about equally likely to be started by a man or a woman. So there must be an awful lot of cases like this one. And in every one the domestic violence industry wants its pound of (male) flesh.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What are we doing to our kids?

A group of experts offers a deeply pessimistic answer:-

"Since children's brains are still developing, they cannot adjust. . . to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change," they write.

"They still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed "junk"), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with the real-life significant adults in their lives.

"They also need time. In a fast-moving, hyper-competitive culture, today's children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum.

"They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past."

(read it all)

Sometimes the thought of becoming a parent scares me s***less. Which in itself makes me part of the problem...

Mr Morpurgo said: "We have so much anxiety about children, their protection, their care, their education, that this has developed into fear. There is a fear around children, both from schools and politicians, which has led to this target-driven education system.

"That has put children into an academic straitjacket from a very early age which restricts creativity and the enrichment of childhood."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On racial profiling

Top solicitor Stephen Grosz presents the case against 'racial profiling' as a weapon in the fight against terrorism. Norm is impressed. Grumpy less so.

Scenario One: a woman has been raped and murdered in my neighbourhood. With no leads to go on, the police knock on my door, wanting to eliminate me from their enquiries. Would it be reasonable for me to refuse to cooperate unless they spend an equal amount of time eliminating my wife?

Scenario Two: a spate of terrorist attacks have in common the fact that they were all committed by Zimbabwean Jewish emeritus professors. Would it be a gross violation of Norm's human rights if the police were to take a certain amount of interest in him?

My point: equality of suspicion is a bogus human right, because it requires the police to treat a falsehood as truth and, carried to its logical conclusion, would make their job virtually impossible. It's a copper's job to suspect all of us (which is of course why socializing with them is not a universally popular pastime), but to suspect some more than others.

There's been an interesting moving of goalposts here. The original campaign against stop and search was based on the premise that young black men were being targetted for no better reason than the average copper's penchant for a spot of racial harassment. How far this was true and how far the perception was systematically promoted by people with a political agenda to discredit the police is a question which I leave open. The point is that to the extent that it was true it was wholly unacceptable.

In the fight against terrorism, on the other hand, it is absolutely clear that this is not the case. The 'profile' has not been invented by the police, it has been created by the criminals themselves.

For al-Qaida, I regret to say, is not an equal opportunities employer. It does not delay an operation until it can fill the post of Bomber with a Chinese lesbian. Allowing the police to act on this knowledge in the interests of preventing mass murder does not mean giving them a licence for harassment. But Grosz is not interested in drawing the distinction. The victims (with or without quotes) of profiling are equally entitled in both cases to cry 'racism' and find themselves a good human rights lawyer.

Of course racial profiling is an admission of failure - that it is better to proceed on the basis of evidence against specific individuals falls squarely under the heading of the Bleeding Obvious. The question is, what are the police to do when no such evidence is available? Stopping young Muslim men at random is a highly inefficient use of police time. Stopping random members of the population as a whole is about a hundred times more inefficient.

And how far are we take the 'no profiling' argument? Is it legitimate for the police to interest themselves in particular Islamist organizations or particular mosques, even if it is clear that the majority of members/worshippers are not terrorists? There are evidently plenty of Muslims for whom this is already a step too far.

Remember we are talking about a matter of life and death (for young Muslim men just as for everybody else), and remember we are talking about the usage of limited resources. Wasting police time is an offence. We should not be forcing the police to commit it.

Of course there is another argument against profiling. '[T]argeting causes resentment and disaffection' says Grosz, delicately declining to spell out an implication that sits distinctly uncomfortably with the rest of his argument: if resentment and disaffection are caused within a group from which terrorists are already disproportionately drawn, who knows what forms of expression they may find? Once we go down this route we leave the discourse of human rights far behind.

We would do well to remember also that resentment and disaffection are not necessarily the sole preserve of minorities. If political correctness (which, pace Grosz, is what his argument amounts to) is perceived to be overriding the protection of life and limb, the explosive mixture of resentment and disaffection with mistrust and fear is likely to lead to more, not fewer, incidents of the flight 613 variety.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Faith schools again

'[Muslim faith] schools are, apparently, a breeding ground for extremism and, indeed, for terrorism. Does the fact that no Jewish school has produced a Jewish terrorist not point to a flaw in that argument?'

- from a piece in the Times by Stephen Pollard. SP is correct that this line of argument against faith schools is very stupid, but since it is advanced by intelligent people there has to be something more than stupidity involved. The driving force is not stupidity but religiophobia. See my previous post.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Secular bigots of the Grauniad

[update: there was a duff link to a Vatican theological document - it should now work]

Much ado among my friends the secular fundamentalists:-

'An Opinionpanel Research survey conducted in July this year found that more than 30% of UK university students believe in creationism or intelligent design.'

- said A C Grayling (via Harry's Place, predictably), delivering a fine old religiophobic rant for comment is free the other day. A 'virulent cancer of unreason', no less - and that's before he gets really worked up:-

'When any of these imprisoning ideologies are on the back foot and/or in the minority, they present sweet faces to those they wish to seduce: the kiss of friendship in the parish church, the summer camp for young communists in the 1930s. But give them the levers of power and they are the Taliban, the Inquisition, the Stasi.

'Give them AK47s and Semtex, and some of the fanatics among them become airline bombers, mass murderers of ordinary men, women and children, and for the most contemptible of reasons.'

Crikey. It sounds as if he knows something about his local parish church that he ought as a matter of some urgency to be sharing with the police. Get that thurible over to Forensic!

Steady on a moment, though, A C. Opinion pollsters do a great job and all that, but if one is going to base an article on a poll it's not a bad idea to check out exactly what the questions were. Especially if the subject matter is not breakfast cereal preferences but something more in the Life, the Universe and Everything sphere. And especially if you're the kind of chap who's keen on not believing anything without hard evidence.

The full poll write-up is here. The question put to the students is almost identical to one put to a sample of the British public as a whole by Ipsos MORI, on behalf of the BBC Horizon programme, in January. In view of Grayling's strictures against the higher education system it's worth noting that the general public appear to have significantly more sympathy with creationism than students do.

The student poll version goes like this:-

'Q1 People have different explanations about life on earth and how it came about. Which of these statements best describes your view?

  • 'The 'evolution theory' - Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process.
  • 'The 'creationism theory' - God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
  • 'The 'intelligent design theory' - Some features of living things are best explained by the intervention of a supernatural being, e.g. God.'
If ever there was a poll that ought to offer respondents a 'crap question' option, it's this one. For which box is a non-fundamentalist theist like Mr Grumpy to tick? I want to assent to evolution on the understanding that it is good science. But I can't do that unless I also sign up for the corollary according to Dawkins: that evolution disproves the existence of God, or at the very least reduces him to a passive spectator. Which is very bad theology. Not just according to me, but according to the Pope (have a look at this if you're up for something a little less digestible than your average blog posting - paragraphs 63ff are the directly relevant bit), the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi (educated guess, but I'd be very surprised if I'm wrong) and, I am sure, plenty of liberal Muslims. Quite a significant current of opinion, in other words, but how easily it is overlooked by those obsessed with the cosmic struggle between secular rationalism and fundamentalism.

So I can either cop out with a 'don't know', or I can opt for 'intelligent design' as the least evil. Not that there is much sense in the implied view that the mysterious 'e.g. God' pops up every now and then to do a bit of designing, but at least it acknowledges the existence of an active creator.

How much of the 19% support for 'intelligent design' results from similar thought processes? If somebody would repeat the poll using a theologically literate question we might have a chance to find out.

I don't want to press the point too far. Plainly quite a lot of students do give credence to Creationism, and I'm with Grayling in believing that Creationism is pseudo-science and also in thinking that it matters if people believe something that isn't true. So there is a real problem, but let's keep it in proportion. The post I pointed to in my last points out that Americans are both more likely than Europeans to believe in Creationism and more likely to have a positive attitude towards science. Our belief systems are complex, multi-dimensional things, and it is rarely constructive to classify them into good and bad along one dimension whilst ignoring the rest.

At the root of this complexity is the fact that as human beings we need more than scientific truth. We need meaning and values, which science alone can never supply. There are those who assert that the only truths which count are those which can be proved - an assertion which is, of course, itself unprovable. I thought that philosophy had moved on from this old chestnut, but Grayling's article suggests that he hasn't.

What, for instance, would count as evidence that I ought not to try to blow Professor Grayling up the next time he boards a plane?

I don't treat the Bible as a biology textbook, and I don't look to The Origin of Species or The Blind Watchmaker to tell me what I should believe about the ultimate source of meaning and values. The people on both extremes who refuse to draw this distinction are locked into a symbiotic relationship where each group confirms the other in its prejudices. The secularists see people conjuring pseudo-science out of 3000-year-old sacred texts, and conclude with relish that their whole belief system is mumbo-jumbo. Conversely, the more the theory of evolution appears to come in a package with the Meaning of Life According To Dawkins and Grayling, the more reason conservative Christians have to distrust it.

For Professor Grayling, however, creationism takes its place alongside suicide bombings in a single vast web of malignity labelled 'religion'. He is apparently the author of a standard text on logic, so he shouldn't need me to tell him what's wrong with 'some religious believers display violent intolerance, therefore religious belief causes violent intolerance'. The largest group of unfree people in the world today, living mostly in the People's Republic of China and amounting to over a quarter of the human race, are forcibly denied basic freedoms in the name of an ideology which is explicitly atheistic. When this rather obvious fact is dismissed as a 'tired old canard' with the counter-claim that Marxism-Leninism is really a religion, or a 'salvation faith' as Grayling puts it, you know you're wasting your time arguing. Even minds as powerful as Professor Grayling's can be totally closed.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Faith schools and social cohesion

From a letter in the Times:-

'Sir, If the community providing a faith school is already well integrated into the host society it should facilitate the integration of its pupils and their parents — immigrants in particular. But faith schools are likely to be damaging to social cohesion in two circumstances. The first is when the faith community is itself badly integrated into the host society.

'The second is when the host society is itself deeply segregated, as in Northern Ireland. There, the solution that I and others first proposed was the establishment of a network (now of 57 schools) where the children of Catholics and Protestants would be educated together on a footing of equality, receiving a religious education that satisfies their parents.'

I agree with the analysis, which makes a refreshing change from the hysterical across-the-board denunciation of faith schools which you're all too likely to read in certain other papers. And I salute the work done in Northern Ireland. The writer goes on to make another good point that is rarely heard:-

'Catholic schools have had an important part to play in integrating into British society the immigrants who have for many years been coming from Italy, Spain and Portugal. And they are now doing the same for Polish, Lithuanian, Slovakian and Ukrainian immigrants. Hampering them would be incredibly foolish.'

Then comes the pay-off: an ambitious proposal for extending the principle developed in Northern Ireland:-

'Helping the Muslim community to integrate is another matter, and the leaders of the Catholic and Islamic communities should discuss the creation of joint or shared schools where the children of Christians and Muslims could be educated on a footing of equality and receive a religious education that satisfies their parents.'

This seems to me to be a tall order. There's no harm in talking, for sure, but I fear he underestimates the differences between the Northern Ireland case and this one. For all the sectarian poison in NI, the people it divides are members of the same faith. Of course there are doctrinal differences, but none of them are anywhere near as fundamental as the Christian values which the sectarian conflict betrays, and therefore none of them are valid arguments for refusing to try to dismantle the barriers.

But how would a joint Christian-Muslim school work? A collective ethos is the whole point of a faith school, as opposed to providing individual pupils with faith experiences tailored to their parents' expectations. Christians worship God incarnate in Christ - that is the irreducible core of our faith. When we do so we blaspheme in Muslim eyes. How do you arrive at a shared ethos without excluding religion altogether? What kind of assemblies would such a school have?

It's good to talk and it's good to find better ways of living together. Pretending we believe the same things when in fact we don't is not a solid foundation for anything.

The red hermit: remembering Ted Grant

I've just caught up with the news that Ted Grant, founder and guru of Militant Tendency, died in July. This doesn't seem to have been much blogged about, but it surely marks the end of an era for the left. Grant was virtually the last living link with the pioneering days of Trotskyism, a man who committed himself to the cause when Trotsky himself still had a decade to live. And although I don't look back on my own Militant phase with much affection or pride, I can still readily acknowledge that in his way Grant was a remarkable man.

The papers have obits, and his followers have created a memorial website.

It was obvious to anyone who heard him speak that he was South African. I didn't know (perhaps I should have guessed) that he was Jewish, or that Ted Grant was an assumed name. The official hagiography and most of the obits give his real name as 'Isaac Blank'. It only seems to have occurred to the Independent to question whether 'Blank' was his real name either. The multiple layers of concealment seem entirely appropriate for the future leader of an organization which vehemently denied its own existence.

One can accept that he was motivated by the desire to avoid getting his family into trouble, but that in itself does not explain why he adopted such a very un-Jewish name. This stealthy self-Aryanization is something he had in common with his one-time comrade and subsequent leader of the SWP, Tony Cliff, né Ygael Glickstein (and of course Trotsky famously borrowed the name of his jailer). It doesn't exactly speak for a boundless confidence in the ability of the revolutionary proletariat to transcend the prejudices of bourgeois nationalism. And might the phenomenon not be entirely without relevance to an understanding of the far left's attitudes towards Israel?

Grant was utterly single-minded, not just in his commitment to socialist revolution but in his conviction that 'entrism' was the means for achieving it. He took what for Trotsky was a tactic to be applied for a few months, and turned it into an immutable law of history: the working class will always turn to its traditional mass organizations. Not even the apotheosis of Tony Blair could weaken his certainty that the Labour Party was the only place for Marxists to be.

He was a man with no time to waste on ironing his notoriously loud shirts, let alone on anything as distracting as sex (so in that respect very much like his estwhile disciple Tommy Sheridan, whose preferred form of relaxation, we now know, is a quiet game of Scrabble). Away from the conference platform, where he trained himself to be an effective orator, he was, for a political leader, quite remarkably introverted. Already in 1945 we see him keeping his nose buried in his newspaper when he has his picture taken. And during my stint in Militant he seemed to spend most of his time closeted in his office, where he would read all the day's papers from front page to back page.

Ironically for a militant materialist, the introversion went with a rather touching air of otherworldliness. I remember hearing him speak during the glory days of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. 'How do the gentlemen of the SWP propose to fight fascism? With dance bands!' Then he corrected the answer to his rhetorical question to 'with jazz bands', and at the third attempt he finally dragged himself into the Seventies: 'with rock bands'.

Militant held together for an extraordinarily long time by far left standards, but when the split came it was inevitable that the far more politically savvy Peter Taaffe would walk off with 90% plus of the membership. And Grant's reaction was entirely characteristic. Left with a few dozen true believers, like Sisyphus he set his shoulder to the stone which had rolled to the bottom of the hill and started building the revolutionary party from scratch.

There's a further irony in the timing of his death, coming as it did while a court in Edinburgh was hearing Tommy Sheridan's libel case against the News of the World. For Sheridan's charismatic leadership of the anti-Poll Tax campaign was plainly crucial in giving Taaffe and the majority of Militant members the confidence that they could turn their backs on the increasingly hostile environment of the Labour Party and 'come out' as an independent party. And it was his charisma which put the new party on the map, in Scotland if nowhere else. But charisma, as the comrades might have remembered from the case of Derek Hatton, is a two-edged sword. If Ted Grant's political project ended in failure, it's not clear that those who turned their backs on him will ultimately fare any better.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Reason and religion: another liberal myth bites the dust

'But if we assume for the sake of argument that it does matter that Britain doesn't produce enough scientists, there's a surprising - to me, anyway - possible factor behind this: it seems that the countries of the EU 25 are in general more irrationalist and less favourably disposed towards science than either the United States or China. For example, barely a majority in Europe believe that the "benefits of science outweigh the harm", compared to over four-fifths in the United States. And with regards irrational beliefs, it is Europeans who are much more likely to believe that astrology has a scientific basis than either Americans or Chinese.

'This rather flies in the face of the comfortable liberal stereotypes of rationalist Europe and fundamentalist America and it raises another intriguing possibility - that some irrational beliefs are more conducive to scientific development than others. While a much higher proportion of Americans believe in God and regularly attend religious services than Europeans, it seems that this is not because Europeans are more rational but that they are more pagan. They are also more suspicious of science. Whether there's a relationship between the two, I wouldn't know. Worth thinking about, though.'

- a palpable hit from Shuggy

Postscript: a little evidence in support of Shuggy's thesis...

'The mastermind behind the goddess cult is the golden figure who greeted me, Kathy Jones, who used to be a BBC science researcher.'

...from Victoria Moore's wondefully irreverent Daily Mail report on her encounter at Glastonbury with the High Priestess of Avalon (via).

'"She's the creatrix, the female face of the divine," says Kathy, ushering me to a seat between Georgina, a fully trained priestess, and Christina, who teaches Arthurian studies at Bristol University. "Oh, never mind. You'll get the hang of it."'

Arthurian studies? Bristol University? HellO?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thanks for Deliverance

I know that not everything is what it seems at first sight, and that the police make mistakes (my goodness, there's not much chance of our being allowed to forget, is there?). But it's surely not too soon to respond to today's police operation in England with congratulations and thanks - remembering that others are not so fortunate.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Feelin' guilty

Autumn 1976: Grumpy arrives at university. His neighbour in his hall of residence owns three records (three more than Grumpy), and two of them are Boston's 'More Than A Feelin'.

Now it can be told: although we didn't strike up a beautiful friendship, I'm eternally grateful to him that it was that rather than 'Anarchy In The UK'. Because it turns out that I'm not alone. Q magazine has compiled a list of 'musical guilty pleasures', being 'songs people love but are too embarrassed to admit to listening to', in which 'More Than A Feelin' only narrowly missed the top spot.

It was beaten by its near contemporary, ELO's 'Livin' Thing'. Since he was 11 at the time, it probably won't embarrass my brother very much if I reveal that 'Out Of The Blue' was his first record. Not half as much it embarrasses me to admit that mine, acquired when I had already reached man's estate, was by Genesis. Well, you see, there was this girl...

Why the embarrassment, anyway? Mainly, of course, because we were all supposed to be into the oeuvres of persons festooned with safety pins and razor blades. But the only punk band that gave me any genuine pleasure was the one that took it least seriously, viz the Ramones. And I don't suppose I'm alone in that, either.


Nothing but Facts

‘NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!’

- says Mr Gradgrind in the opening paragraph of Dickens' Hard Times (sorry, of course you knew that already).

'The National Secular Society and Liberal Democrat peers used the Human Rights Act to force New Labour to give pupils over the age of 16 the right to boycott school assemblies. The climbdown followed a revolt by children at St Luke’s, a Catholic sixth-form college in Bexley, south London. They signed a petition that said their faith school was "more concerned with religion than education". And they do seem to have had a good case.

'Instead of learning about computing, the use of English and other fripperies, pupils heard gruesome lectures at assembly from one Barbara McGuigan, an American anti-abortionist and founder of Voice of Virtue International. "It was just disturbing and went too far," an 18-year-old girl told the Times Educational Supplement. "We were shown pictures of foetuses aborted after 12 and 20 weeks - it was met with disgust. Some people were crying and walking out."

'The head, who has since been suspended, also made them carry a statue of the Virgin Mary around the college while singing hymns [...]'

- writes the frequently admirable Nick Cohen in his Observer column, smelling a secularist cause celebre. As such it leaves, in my opinion, something to be desired. A few observations:-

  1. Doesn't the petition tend to count against the usual secularist complaint that faith schools brainwash their pupils?

  2. Does Nick know for a Fact that this school is in dereliction of its responsibility to teach the kids how to use computers? Or is his 'instead of' just a lazy rhetorical non-sequitur?

  3. Hasn't Nick rather lost sight of the fact that nobody is compelled to send their offspring to a faith school? If these kids are unhappy there, shouldn't they be asking their parents to move them to another school, rather than running to the National Secular Society and the courts? Or could it by any chance be that the alternative local schools have a somewhat less impressive record in the frippery-teaching department?

  4. As for the statue-carrying business, it seems to me to offer the kids a useful exercise in the virtue of counting blessings. At my school they made me play rugby - what wouldn't I have given for a good human rights lawyer to get me out of that!

  5. The appearance of an aborted foetus is surely a piece of factual information to which no Gradgrind could object. And relevant too, since the statistical expectation is that at least one or two of these kids will sooner or later look to the abortion clinic to get them out of a tight corner. But of course this is where Nick moves the goalposts. The kids shouldn't have to digest this particular fact because they find it disturbing and disgusting. So when a group of assorted fundamentalist sixth-formers get up a petition complaining that it is disturbing and disgusting to be taught that their ancestors were monkeys, will Nick's enthusiasm for pupil-power continue unabated? I'm inclined to think not.

  6. This is of course part of a trend. Stop me if I've blogged about this before, but it's no coincidence that church schools started getting it in the neck big time from the secularist left at precisely the time that Islamic schools found their way onto the political agenda. I'm sure Nick doesn't seriously believe that a bit of statue-carrying is going to turn these kids into crazed fanatics, incapable of integrating with the rest of society. But it's so much easier to launch a generalized attack on 'faith education' than to admit that yes, actually there are specific concerns raised by the prospect of separate schools for a religious minority whose integration into mainstream society is already problematic.

    And if Nick is so worried about schools being socially divisive, I look forward to reading his clarion call for the nationalization of Eton. Yes, I know we've had a bit of hand-wringing about the old school tie's stranglehold on the media, but when it comes to action it seems to be a lot easier to demand that choice be removed from parents who can't afford to pay for it than to take on those who can.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Joe's daughter

Continuing the theme developed here, here and here, but, unlike my efforts, carrying the weight of lived experience: the father of a Down's Syndrome child responds to a caring eugenicist. No quote; read it all, if it's the only thing you read this week. (via - revealing samples of 'progressive thought' in the comments)

Because this says more than a thousand tomes of systematic theology about the difference that faith in a loving God makes. The parent whose faith empowers him with the love needed to raise a handicapped child, versus the ones who could have been perfect parents if only they'd got a perfect child, but decided the one they did get was, sadly, too 'flawed' to fit in with their lifestyle. Two different gods and, as somebody or other said, you can serve one or the other but not both.

Do I have what it takes to raise a Down's Syndrome child? I think I can answer that very simply: NO. Left to my own devices, I'm with the caring eugenicists. What I do have, and what anybody can have if they just decide they want it, is the ability to pray for Joe's faith, courage and love. And the willingness to believe that prayers are answered. So, thank you Joe. And thank you Joe's daughter.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

On the level

While we're on the subject of education, I note that the powers that be have come up with a brilliant solution to the A level problem. The problem being that nowadays everyone who can spell his/her name correctly and read the answers off the exam paper comes away with a clutch of A grades. So the new thinking is: why not get the kids to write essays? Give that man a knighthood!

I suppose I should declare an interest here. I got three grade A's sometime just after the Battle of Agincourt, when it still required a certain amount of ratiocination (and you lost marks if you couldn't spell ratiocination). And for reasons too tedious to enumerate I don't have a degree. So this is personal.

Leave those kids alone

Another politicalcorrectnessgonemad story, yawn, how original, but sometimes you just can't help it...

'A KISS is just a kiss. But not if you are a vicar helping a class of ten-year-old children with their long division.

'In Staffordshire, a vicar has been forced to step down as the chairman of governors of a school after he kissed a girl on the forehead in a maths class.'

(read the rest)

Note that after the police and social services decided that, yes, it is still legal for a school governor to be fond of children (having spent exactly how many person hours on the case, one would like to know) it was the good old C of E that went into spineless mode and forced Mr Barrett to stand down. Lichfield diocese is evidently well supplied with Scribes and Pharisees.

I do adore that word 'inappropriate', ever the mask of compassion on the face of arbitrary authority. 'What did I do wrong?' 'Absolutely nothing at all, but unfortunately you were inappropriate, so we have no choice but to punish you.' Tear off the mask and it's straight out of Kafka.

I've warned Frau Grumpy, in case she does anything that finishes her career before it's started. Worryingly, she thinks kids like to be touched. Should I inform the Bishop?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Breeding the Übermensch

There is evidence to suggest that gay men suffer from significantly higher than average levels of mental illness. It is clear that they are considerably less likely than heterosexuals to succeed in forming permanent committed relationships. They are at high risk from a life-threatening and currently incurable viral infection. The obstacles to having children are obvious. And they continue to face significant levels of social stigma.

So if it proves possible to identify a gene which predisposes individuals to this condition, would it not be a kindness to sufferers to put them out of their misery before they see the light of day, and give parents the opportunity to produce non-defective offspring? Would this not be an act of caring and love?

The question is one for Johann Hari, of that persuasion himself and an enthusiast for 'liberal eugenics'. Personally, I believe that Mr Hari's existence is unequivocally a good thing. But maybe that's just one of my primitive superstitions.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


So, today it's Mumbai's turn (again). I don't think there are any Indian troops in Iraq, so presumably Kashmir is the excuse. Will the legitimate-grievancers at last understand that there'll always something to be angry about, and what makes the difference is what your belief system tells you you can do with your anger?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

In memoriam

...the man and the young girl who have paid for their lives for the crime of watching the World Cup. How the Religion of Peace is cleaning up Somalia.

Custom and practice 2

Following the 'Somali custom' post, another custom in the field of conflict resolution that has been imported with great success. It's rather rare for it to find its way into the pages of the Grauniad, but in this instance there's a twist that makes it even nastier than usual.

Gay marriage and Anglican fudge

From Spain, news that confirms the experience of other countries: the legalization of same-sex marriages has not exactly been followed by a mass stampede to the registry offices:-

'Since the law took effect last July 3, until May 31, only 1,275 same-sex marriages took place, reported the Madrid daily newspaper ABC last Saturday.

'Comparatively, that would add up to a mere 0.6% of the 209,125 marriages contracted in Spain during 2005.'

(from Canon Kendall Harmon)

When you bear in mind that this figure must include a backlog of couples who have been waiting for years for the chance to marry, the lack of enthusiasm becomes even more striking.

Of course this is not necessarily any reflection on the quality of the relationships of those who have tied the knot (though I've seen some interesting data on this, which I may get round to writing up eventually). But as an Anglican I do feel that the Anglican Communion's apparent determination to hit the self-destruct button becomes all the more tragic when the issue precipitating it turns out, in practice, to involve such a very small group of people. Have the reserves of good old-fashioned Anglican fudge really been exhausted?

The new Scramble for Africa

From Gabriel Rozenberg in the Times: how the penny has started to drop at Oxfam, the DfID etc... just when it's too late to make any difference:-

'[...]China will deal with anyone, and pariah states are a gap in the market. Despite US concerns, China treats these countries as it wishes to be treated itself: be they corrupt, inept, or genocidal, it doesn't get involved. Put aside whether this is a recipe for a new Cold War — what does it mean for Bono?

'Britain’s “development community” has been searching its soul recently. In particular it seems to have gone off aid. The idealistic, hippy talk of the redistribution of wealth is now passé as the penny drops that the billions given to Africa have only kept tinpot elites in power. “I think Africans must have been smiling and cringeing at times when they saw us just thinking that money could solve their problems,” said Bono earlier this year. “Aid is not a magic bullet,” says Duncan Green, Oxfam’s head of research. “The real drivers of change are internal.”

'The new buzzword is governance. Growth will come only when accountable governments establish property rights and weed out corruption. Tricky though it is, the Department for International Development is now trying to encourage good governance, by cutting back aid to countries that persecute opposition leaders and supporters. The latest approach makes sense. But, sadly, the game is up: China makes it irrelevant. It is giving billions of dollars of loans to Angola, for example, with no strings attached in return for oil contracts. Raddled old kleptocrats such as President José Eduardo dos Santos can now raise two fingers to the West.'

Very depressing. He may be overstating his case, but not by much, I fear. Looks like now is the time for Africans to rise up against the kleptocrats - before they find themselves facing Chinese tanks.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Custom and practice

Why did a 12-year-old girl take a razor blade to her school in Sheffield and use it to slash a classmate's face in full view of the teacher? Well, it would seem the victim may have been somewhat less than angelic, and that the perpetrator has had a tough time in more ways than one. The question has been raised as to what kind of school does not take immediate disciplinary action when a teacher spots a pupil repeatedly knocking a classmate's head against a wall. Certainly not the kind to which I would be happy to entrust any putative future Grumplets.

But it was this facet of the case for the defence that particularly caught my eye...

'A psychologist told the court she was likely to have been heavily influenced by a Somali custom in which women routinely settled disputes by inflicting minor scratches on each other's faces.'


...or as another report says...

'During the trial psychologist Stuart Taylor testified that in Somali culture women routinely solve disputes by scratching each other's faces with their fingernails or sticks.

'But he said such behaviour usually resulted in superficial injuries.'

I just love that 'usually'. And you have to wonder what a boy equally heavily influenced by Somali culture might have done in the circumstances.

I wish the people of Somalia well. I wish them well rid of some of their customs. For it surely cannot be coincidental that one of the most violent socieities on Earth has a culture which institutionalizes violence even in everyday interactions between women (not to mention the popularity of female genital mutilation). So whilst I have absolutely no problem in principle with people from Somalia settling in Britain, in practice it's unrealistic to expect that they will not bring their culture with them, and it has to be said that this is a problem.

Imagine being the parent of a child in this girl's class. Almost certainly you don't have the financial means to consider any alternative educational path for your child. Do you feel that Somali customs are to be affirmed and celebrated? How do you feel about being lectured about the benefits of multiculturalism by politicians and media folk whose kids go to private schools or, at least, to comprehensives in Somali custom-free zones?

Which leads us nicely to a passage from a speech by Roger Scruton, excerpted by Laban Tall:-

"First, the double standard over 'racism': a charge constantly levelled against innocent members of the indigenous majority, and almost never levelled against guilty members of immigrant minorities..."

"... It is in the light of these double standards that the charge of 'racism and xenophobia' should be assessed. It is a charge almost invariably levelled at members of the indigenous communities of Europe, and in particular against those at the bottom of the social scale, for whom mass immigration is a cost that they have not been schooled (and through no fault of their own) to bear. It is levelled too at political parties that attempt to represent those people, and who promise them some relief from a problem that no other party seems willing to address."

The penultimate sentence encapsulates the issues raised by Somali customs in inner-city Sheffield rather well. But the last sentence worries me. Scruton was speaking as a guest of Vlaams Belang, the Flemish separatist party in Belgium. I don't know a lot about this organization, but here is one reason why I hope Scruton supped with a long spoon. And the project of persuading Flemish-speaking Belgians that it is intolerable for them to carry on living in the same state as people who speak French is not one that I find particularly admirable. Especially since there is hypocrisy built into it: they talk self-determination, but deny precisely that to the people of Brussels, who are to be incorporated willy-nilly into the Flemish statelet even though they are overwhelmingly French-speaking.

And what about Britain? Is he thinking of any party in particular? There's certainly one that springs to mind, but the problem is that its attachment to racism and xenophobia is not a hysterical liberal slander but a deeply unpleasant reality. And there's the rub. It takes something pretty compelling to motivate a politician to break free of the herd on these issues. That something doesn't have to be racism - I think in Enoch Powell's case it probably genuinely wasn't - but in practice, away from the heady intellectual heights which Powell, Scruton and their like inhabit, it's predictable that the people most willing to shrug off the charge of racism turn out to be racists indeed.

Nevertheless, the political space to which Scruton refers needs to be filled by somebody, and even lefties should prefer to see it filled by the Tories rather than the BNP, by a healthy sense of the abiding strengths of British culture rather than by malignant bigotry. The danger is that a Conservative Party which, in its desperation to appropriate New Labour's winning formula for itself, no longer believes there is anything to conserve is leaving a vacuum for others to fill.

PS Mick Hartley has news of a robust approach to Pakistani customs taken by a court in Denmark. Full marks to the Danes - in Berlin there's been a similar honour killing case where the victim's brother was convicted of carrying out the murder, but the rest of the clan not only got off scot free but were in line to gain custody of her orphaned child (details in German).

PPS Eternal fourteen-year-old department: sorry, but I can't resist passing on the information that the Blogger spellchecker suggested 'scrotum' as an alternative for 'Scruton', 'labium' for 'Laban' and 'bowels' for 'Powell's'. More material for the feminist critique of the blogosphere...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Watch with Mother

Is there any issue inherently less likely to get balanced media coverage than 'stay-at-home mums'? Here's a contribution on the subject from Carole Sarler in the Times, typical in its tone of touchiness verging on belligerence:-

'Only now, this now of domestic labour-saving devices and Tesco home deliveries and SUVs for school-runs, only now might the woman who eschews the labour market call herself — in the absence of anything else she has to do — a full-time mother. And bully for her, if it is what she chooses, if she has found someone else to pay for it, if she is immune to accusations of indulgence and idleness or if she believes, as many sincerely do, that her permanent presence is in the better interests of her children.

'But if she then justifies her choice, in the process provoking unease in parents who have chosen otherwise, by suggesting that it is she who adheres to a proven, time-honoured pattern for child-rearing, then it is she — not they — who is wrong.'

We're not left in much doubt that for Ms Sarler this is personal. As for the substance, the 'we used to live in a cardboard box' stuff earlier in the article is surely overdone. In the nineteenth century middle-class households had servants. When servants became hard to come by the domestic appliance industry took off. My grandmothers' pre-war generation may well have fallen into a hiatus where they got the worst of both worlds, but it was not of long duration. Reading Ms Sarler you'd think Hoovers and washing machines were invented the day before yesterday.

Be that as it may: if she objects to full-time motherhood being presented as a proven, time-honoured pattern, that's fine by me. Call it a bold radical innovation instead. The thing is, that's actually more or less totally irrelevant to the question whether it is good for kids. And that seems to me to be a question worth asking, however uncomfortable it makes Ms Sarler. Because if it does turn out that they are best served by an option which most parents cannot realistically take, it might be a nice idea to frame policies that give more parents a real choice.

I'm not familiar with the research, but I feel I'd like a guide who's just a little less partisan than Ms Sarler. When she says that disruptive behaviour in nursery-raised kids 'is only marginally increased' I'd like to know what she counts as marginal.

By way of compensation she tells us 'it has also been shown that the nursery alumni go on to do better both at school and later in life' (this is evidently a conclusive and non-marginal finding). So raising disaffected and obnoxious toddlers is not only OK, it's positively the recipe for ensuring they get ahead. What a comforting thought.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Apologia pro braccis suis

'I have a number of golden rules, such as never trust a man with a beard. Never give the time of day to a man in three-quarter length shorts is right at the top of the list.'

- says Stephen Pollard

Grumpy is not willing to take this lying down...

'Not those trousers, Pollard.'

One of our periodic domestic crises was looming over the horizon. I drew a deep breath and prepared to do battle.

'I beg your pardon, sir?'

'Not those trousers. I want the three-quarter length shorts.'

The garment under advisement was one I had acquired during my stay in Rome. One of those off-whitish numbers that come to an end somewhere midway between knee and ankle, with sundry ingenious pockets around the knee area. Not the kind of thing I go in for as a rule, but quite tolerably natty, and absolutely what the doctor ordered on a day like this, with temparatures giving every promise of creeping up to eighty in the shade.

Nonetheless, I had never been able to hide from myself the fact that that they were not going to go down well with Pollard. I had left him at home, he being keen not to miss Ascot, so he had had the legwear sprung on him when I returned. While unpacking my effects he winced visibly on unearthing said shorts. The trouble with Pollard, as I have said more than once before, is that he is hidebound and reactionary in questions of gents' outfitting. So I was determined to show him a touch of that old Grumpy spirit that won through at Agincourt.

'Pardon me, sir, not the three-quarter length shorts.'

'Why ever not?'

'They are quite unsuitable, sir.'

'Pollard, this time you go too far. I defer to your judgment implicitly over shirts or spats, or even ties. But when it comes to dictating how I may drape my lower limbs, I draw the line. Put out those shorts, Pollard.'

'Very good, sir.'

'And I can't see what you've got against them, anyway. Everyone who's anyone is wearing them on the Corso.'

'The Mediterranean temperament allows itself a latitude which does not become the English gentleman, sir.'

'Perfect rot. And I may say that I've had nothing but admiration for them from the gentler s.'

'I regret to say that ladies' judgment is frequently defective in these matters, sir. They are too readily swayed by affection for the wearer.'

'Stuff and nonsense, Pollard. I am convinced that, given time, you will grow to love them.'

'I fear not, sir.'

'Be that as it may, I wear those shorts, Pollard.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Very good, Pollard.'

Dashed painful, and all that, but it had to be done. I mean, is one to be a mere peon or serf of one's manservant? The thing's too bally absurd. Absolutely!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Department of the Bleeding Obvious

Even more sensiblism from the Observer. You might think it too obvious to need saying that ordinary Iraqis are not in mourning for a man who dedicated himself to butchering them. But of course there are those for whom it is anything but obvious. So due credit to Jason Burke for saying so (via), and pointing out:

'Unless we lapse into ugly prejudices about Muslims being inherently fanatic, this should not surprise us.'

Am I talking to myself?

Mr Grumpy had a record week after getting a plug from Laban Tall, but over the weekend the hit rate plummeted.

Is it possible that there is a rival attraction which nobody has told me about? If anybody's reading and has any information, do let me know what I'm missing.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Abortion, Amnesty International and a confession

The other links in this post are optional, but not this one. [I've mislaid my source, but I'm fairly sure it was Laban Tall]. A sample of the things that become possible once we grow out of the primitive delusion that there is a God and men and women are created in his image: eugenics, once the province of scary men in jackboots, is now available on the NHS.

Amnesty International think there's a universal human right at stake here. Hint: not the unborn child's. As Shuggy says:-

'The only conclusion one can draw is that Amnesty International's official position now is that the unborn child is not human.'

Shuggy's so right about Amnesty, and it's a real shame. The beauty of the organization used to be that it did exactly what it said on the tin. If you got locked up, or worse, for saying the wrong thing about your government, Amnesty would speak up for you, whether you were a communist in Pinochet's Chile or a born-again Christian in the Gulag. But somewhere along the way mission creep set in - doubtless partly through straightforward corporate megalomania, but mainly, I think, because they got hijacked by the people who think there's no such thing as politically impartial and that anything they consider desirable must be a basic human right.

They're the same crowd who run the aid charities. There's no point in giving to Oxfam, Christian Aid or Cafod these days if you just want to help poor people. You need to believe they are in possession of the magic formula that will Make Poverty History, and not be worried that the formula begins by systematically ignoring the countries which are actually succeeding in making poverty history.

Frau Grumpy (patronizing sexist reference just in case Catherine Bennett happens to read this) agrees with me about Amnesty, so there'll be no Amnesty Christmas cards from the Grumpy household this year, I'm afraid.

As for abortion: it begins to look my Rubicon crossing. This is where it all gets deadly serious. I'm shocked that abortion is being used to weed out club feet and cleft palates (jaw defects may not yet have been taken as grounds for a termination, but we must assume that there is nothing in principle to prevent that from happening: the thought fills me with particular horror since Frau Grumpy, like Joanna Jepson, has one). But there's something else: I'm shocked that it has taken a chance click on a link from a blog to tell me that this is going on. Of course I could blame the media I relied on before I started blogging, which have no interest in enlightening me. If I'm honest with myself, though, I could have taken steps to inform myself, and I didn't.

I was always uncomfortable with the way the 'woman's right to choose' slogan is chanted at full volume to drown out discussion of the ethical assumptions it rests on. But I've been all too ready to suppress my doubts and go along with the left/liberal herd, accepting that if women are granted the power of life and death over their babies of course they will all exercise it responsibly - and even if they don't it's no business of mine.

And yet human lives are being discarded - lives which, for many a bien-pensant liberal, are apparently of less account than a hunted fox or a laboratory rat. I am quite certain there are people who know me who, if they read this post, would take it as conclusive proof that I have become a reactionary, misogynistic turncoat. But there's a bit too much at stake to be influenced by the fear of losing friends.

Reality check

'Two years ago, Spanish police tried to storm an apartment in which they believed terrorist suspects were hiding. Preferring death to custody, the fugitives blew themselves up, killing a policeman in the process.'

- the Observer, whose leader column is, on a good day, an oasis of sanity in the Grauniad empire, putting the Forest Gate cock-up into context. If you're suffering from moonbattery withdrawal symptoms, just scroll down to the comments.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The PC prejudice

How does the Grauniad's Giles Fraser top his 'evangelicals are Nazis' piece? Easy - this time it's 'evangelicals are child-abusers'.

The evidence is of the standard we've come to expect. A couple have set themselves up as a 'ministry' advocating corporal punishment, and there has been one case of a mother using their views to rationalize her sadism. Obviously a fully representative sample of 30 million American conservative evangelicals. You can just imagine our Seumas commissioning a piece like this on Muslims, can't you?

Once again, I hold no brief for the happy clappies, being more of a bells and smells man myself. I do, however, have some knowledge gleaned from close quarters of the loving concern which evangelical parents can lavish on their children. So when it comes to newspapers tickling their readers' pet prejudices, I really can't see much to choose between the Grauniad and the Daily Mail.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Secular Bigots of the Independent no. 3

Today featuring not just any old letter-writer, but Hariboy in person!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Not so grumpy

To all who've come via the indescribably wonderful Laban Tall, welcome, and apologies for the lack of recent posts here, but there are plenty at Christian Hate?. Somehow haven't been feeling all that grumpy lately, but don't worry, I'm sure it's just a phase.

Incidentally I have in common with Laban not only the sad fact that I work, if that's not putting it too strongly, in I.T., but also a youth misspent in Militant Tendency. Spooky, huh?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tit for tat

Laban Tall picked up on my last post and has thus earned instant reciprocation. This'll make you groan...

Monday, May 22, 2006

O brave new world

'On the first date or two, Julie’s obsession can be easy to hide; often it’s under the guise of being concerned about appearing “too forward”. But soon she has to use a variety of techniques to avoid sex: pretending to have her period; claiming to suffer headaches; to being physically sick; and orchestrating a row to make her partner leave her alone.'

- psychotherapist Lucy Beresford, writing in the Times about 'sexual anorexia'.

I don't want to dispute the claim that compulsive avoidance of sex can be a medical problem. I'm interested in what is revealed about our brave new world by the writer's assumption, evidently shared by 'Julie' and her dates, that postponing sex beyond the second date is conclusive evidence of pathology. Surely Aldous Huxley would have been astounded at his own prophetic powers.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Secular Bigots of the Independent no. 2

'Sir: Bono is right: people are tired of messianic rock stars. The Bono-edited Independent was none the less fascinating. Bono's editorial alone was incredible. Blatantly conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the one organisation who could at a stroke revolutionise the whole way Aids and HIV is viewed and treated in Africa - and whose heinous medieval dogma has helped cause this disaster in the first place. I of course refer to the Catholic Church .' (from)

Well, of course you do. The Vatican has an iron grip on every heart and mind across the continent, so when Ratzi propounds the heinous medieval dogma 'don't shag people you're not married to' he may not cut much ice with progressive Europeans and Americans, but in Africa he gets his way without a murmur of dissent.

And I bet Opus Dei's behind the whole business, did we but know.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Number crunching

“I don’t believe that I have to justify everything I write, line by line and word by word.

“It may offend people sometimes but I will speak from the heart and speak the truth. And if speaking the truth is upsetting community relations, then I hold my hands up to that."

The fighting words of Sayeeda Warsi, in response to the charge that she has been upsetting community relations by feeding her fellow Muslims with inflammatory, er, lies about the detention of terror subjects.

Who she? Someone whom Dave Cameron is very keen to get into Parliament.

'She had believed that her detention statistics were correct at the time she wrote the Awaaz article, she said'.

And let's face it, getting 'nine hundred' confused with 'zero' is the kind of mistake anyone can make. This lady has a glittering political career ahead of her.

(hat tip: Stephen Pollard)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Loving the stranger

As a postscript to the last-but-one post, a little scriptural wisdom for any Christians who did succumb to the blandishments of the BNP on Thursday:-

[The LORD] doth execute the judgment of the fatherless and widow, and loveth the stranger, in giving him food and raiment.
Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

(Deuteronomy ch. 10, vv. 18-19)

And here's how Grumpy's padre has been tackling the sometimes challenging business of loving the stranger; I can reveal that the final score was Priests 12, Imams 1. Not exactly a nail-biter, but the captain of the imams says 'we are all winners'.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

On the edge of language

A fascinating read from the Indie: the Amazonian tribe who speak (or, more precisely, hum and whistle) a language with no numbers or colours - and thereby look like proving Chomsky wrong and Benjamin Whorf right.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Nazis, happy clappies and the chaplain to the Grauniad

If you had the job of picking a tame vicar for the Grauniad, you really couldn't improve on Giles Fraser. And here he is excelling by his own high standards...

'Over the past few months there has been growing evidence of a developing alliance between the British National party and fundamentalist evangelicals.'

Well, I don't think much of conservative evangelicals' theology, and I quite understand that Dr Fraser is aggrieved by their attitude to his sexuality. But if he's going to go around effectively calling people Nazis, he really ought to have a bit of evidence.

And what, in fact, is the story here? Apparently as follows. BNP sets up 'Christian' front organization. Grand total of persons in dog collars signing up: one. Collapse of BNP stunt. Good news for everyone who agrees that the BNP stinks.

So what is ostensibly a story about other people's bigotry turns out to be a revelation of Dr Fraser's own bigotry. He can produce no evidence of any Christian organization, evangelical or otherwise, or even any significant number of individual Christians, responding to BNP overtures. But he evidently dislikes evangelicals so much that he is happy to smear them with a crude exercise in guilt-by-association.

And what is one of the unappealing characteristics that the Nazis and the happy clappies have in common? Love of publicity, says the retiring Dr Fraser. To resort to an already overused phrase, you couldn't make it up. Any more than you could his magnificently patronizing tone here:-

Rarely have I been as proud of churchgoers as I was of those wonderful old dears who would shuffle along to mass, clutching their Bibles, in open defiance of the skinheads.

But that's enough, or I might start getting personal.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

AIDS and received wisdom

So it looks as if the Vatican is about to soften its line on condoms. About time too, eh?

A small piece of news from Pope Benedict's native land (here in German): 2005 was a bumper year for the rubber goods industry. In response to the huge "mach's mit" (literally "do it with") public health campaign (featuring posters with multi-coloured condoms arranged into pictures of teddy bears, sheep, etc. - I pity parents of inquisitive seven-year-olds) the number of singles under 45 using condoms rose from 70% to 75%. Congratulations all round. And new cases of HIV infection? Well, now you mention it, they were up 13% on 2004.

My entirely redundant advice to the Pope: humane pragmatism, yes, but not at the expense of the home truths that a sick sexual culture needs to be told.

The things they do with our money

From Saturday's Indie...

Cornish language is alive and healthy

Sir: Tristram Penna calls Cornish a dead language (letter, 22 April). I have returned from a few days in Cornwall, and one of the people I met there is a fluent Cornish language speaker. Today, I have renewed my annual subscription to Agan Tavas (The Society for the Promotion of the Cornish Language). The society has recently been involved in the appointment of a Cornish language development manager. There were 29 applicants from all over the world.

I am doing a PhD on Henry Jenner, whose Handbook of the Cornish Language of 1904 started the revival of the language. It is now, in the 21st century, in a far more healthy state than it was at the end of the 18th century and the time of Dolly Pentraeth



Well, it's jolly nice that there's at least one fluent speaker of the language (I'm just intrigued to know who he/she talks to) and jolly nice too about the language development manager. Mr Everett omits to mention that this exotic career opportunity has been made possible by the munificence of the taxpayer. As Agan Tavas reported last year...

Government funding to support the Cornish language was confirmed today, to the tune of up to £80,000 a year for three years. This provides the match funding needed to support an application by Cornwall Council for EU Objective 1 funding, and demonstrates the Government's commitment to the principles of recognition and support, under Part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Announcing the handout, Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said:-

“Languages are part of our history, our culture, and our identity. It is right that we should nurture the Cornish language. The Cornish Language Strategy provides a realistic and reasonable vision for the development of the language over the next 25 years, commensurate with the capacity of the language movement to grow. I am pleased to endorse the strategy as providing the framework for implementation of the Charter, and to be able to confirm funding to support the application for EU Objective 1 funding.

"I believe that today's announcement demonstrates the Government's commitment to the resolute action to protect and promote the Cornish language that the Charter seeks. We look forward to working with the local authorities and the Cornish language organisations, through the Government Office for the South West and in line with our Charter commitments, to take the Strategy forward."

What you need to know about Cornish at this point is simply this:- round about 250 years ago, people living in a handful of villages in the 'toe' of Cornwall finally decided that there was no point in bringing up their children speaking Cornish rather than English. And so in due course the language died with its last native speakers. Like Manx Gaelic died, and Latin died, and Gothic died, and Etruscan died, and Hittite died, and... It happens, and it's sad.

So what we have here is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages being invoked on behalf of a minority of zero. The beneficiaries are actually, as it happens, people who have the considerable good fortune to be native speakers of the language of globalization.

The case of Israel shows that it is possible to revive a dead language. It also shows how much this depends on special circumstances creating a high level of motivation in the prospective linguistic community. The situation in Cornwall is that a few hundred people have taken up Cornish as a hobby. Nothing in the least wrong with that, though it does seem a shame to put so much effort into learning a language that is not only dead but also scarcely has any literature to speak of. But why should this hobby be subsidized?

OK, of course the answer is obvious. Mr Woolas sees a good excuse to claw back some cash from the EU and channel it to the poorest county in England, and the Eurocrats, used to dishing out other people's money as if it grew on trees, are happy to play along with the charade. But where, in this bureaucratic labyrinth, is there anything remotely resembling accountability?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The complications of modern life

Spotted in a brochure from Portmeirion Potteries...


For burning instructions, please see label at base of candle.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Faith schools

Blogging teacher Shuggy is unimpressed by the case for faith schools. Grumpy puts up his hand and begs to differ with Sir...


As a liberal Christian I'm torn on the faith schools thing. But your position smacks too much of 'one size fits all - just make sure it's my size' for my liking.

At the state schools I went to in the 60s and 70s the standard pattern for assembly was effectively a short act of Christian worship. Is that still acceptable today? Or should religion be kept out of schools? If the latter, why do you think religious parents should be obliged to accept a school ethos based on the assumption that God is an irrelevance?

I think it's fair to say that Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs (at least) have in common the belief that a right relationship with God involves (a) a commitment to moral behaviour understood as, at least ultimately, the keeping of God's commandments (as opposed to seeing moral codes as just arbitrary, or the product of human reason, or a matter of social convenience), and (b) worship. A school where these things don't happen is not just some kind of neutral forum for cultural exchange, it is functionally speaking atheistic. Religion becomes a private interest with essentially the same status as stamp collecting - and that simply doesn't do justice to the place it occupies in religious people's lives - and which they would wish it to occupy in their children's lives.

It's very easy and very unfair to argue from the worst case scenarios - schools teaching creationist mumbo-jumbo, schools turning out little Rangers supporters and little Celtic supporters, schools teaching kids to despise infidel 'filth'. But it's simply nonsense to imply that the average British church school turns its pupils into crazed, intolerant fanatics. And in any case it's poor reasoning to decide the issue of principle on these grounds. Where it can be done without entrenching dangerous divisions, why shouldn't parents have the option of sending their children to a school which takes their beliefs seriously?



Thursday, April 20, 2006

Robert Mugabe, world-beater

Who would have imagined, when Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980, that it would win the melancholy distinction of becoming the country with the world’s shortest life expectancy? Yes, Comrade Bob has managed to outdo even Sierra Leone. I don’t suppose for a moment that the people who assure us they know how to Make Poverty History will have much to say about this almost entirely home-made African tragedy – apart from demanding that the rest of the world picks up the tab.

In contrast, neighbouring Mozambique seems to be sub-Saharan Africa’s big success story at the moment. This, too, is not likely to be of great interest to the MPHers, since the secret of the country’s success is the embrace of the free market by its one-time Marxist rulers. And to be honest, it’s a bit of a curate’s egg. Growth is running at an impressive 8%, but corruption remains rampant, the state is dependent on aid for half of its budget, and only the southernmost corner of the country, where the capital Maputo is located, is really feeling the benefits of the boom. Even so, where Africa is concerned a readiness to be grateful for small mercies is mandatory. [facts from a recent article in the print edition of the Berlin Tagesspiegel]

Why so cynical about Making Poverty History, Grumpy? For a start, it’s the simplistic programme that’s presented as a panacea for Africa’s ills. It’s the feeling that for the big aid charities the whole thing is basically a marketing campaign. It’s the way it gives aging rock stars and sundry other oversized egos the opportunity to proclaim ‘what a wonderful world this would be if only everybody was as caring as me’. It’s the bullying insinuation that anyone who dares disagree with the programme is pro-poverty. It’s the way Africa and its tragedies are turned into the arena for a Manichaean battle between good and evil in which the participants on both sides are rich westerners, whilst the poor buggers who actually live in the continent are turned into passive spectators.

I’m all for free trade. Well, now you mention it, I’m not thrilled about my best client offshoring work to Sri Lanka. But so long as it’s a question of letting in cheap food from Africa I’m delighted as a non-farmer to be able to occupy the moral high ground at no cost to myself whatsoever. But free trade won’t work magic.

Why not? If Europe and America were to stop protecting their farmers, African farmers could undercut them simply because their labour is dirt cheap. And then what? Three scenarios:-

  1. Their labour stays dirt cheap, ergo they stay poor.

  2. Labour costs increase and the competitive advantage conferred by cheap labour disappears. Farmers can’t export their produce, ergo they stay poor.

  3. African countries build on their export successes to invest in things that will consolidate their competitive advantage and start moving away from reliance on cheap labour. People have a chance to start getting less poor.
Scenario 3 depends on a whole lot of things which the rest of the world can’t ultimately control and, on the assumption that colonialism is a Bad Thing, shouldn’t try to. It raises issues about whether aid may turn out to be more of a hindrance than a help. And it’s absolutely not a process which anyone can take for granted given the track record of African elites since decolonization. In Mozambique there is, one hopes, a chance of it working. But if Robert Mugabe is running the show, the script goes into reverse. You start with a flourishing agricultural sector, which thanks to the farmers’ efficiency and enterprise has no difficulty in exporting its produce, and systematically wreck it for reasons of ideology and racial spite. You give land to people who aren’t interested in working it, and you end up not even being able to feed your own people.

Or consider the Ivory Coast, once the economic powerhouse of French-speaking West Africa, now pauperized by civil strife.

So, you ask, what are you going to do about it, Grumpy? My programme is modest at present, I must admit. I plan to carry on drinking fairly traded Tanzanian tea. I'll also continue listening to African music, which needs absolutely no PC special pleading. I'll back political initiatives that are tailored to the realities on the ground rather than to my own desire to enjoy a nice warm glow of self-righteousness. And, pathetic as it may sound to some, I'll try to keep remembering the peoples of Africa in my prayers.

[PS Since writing this, I've read this from Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times, putting Mozambique's achievements in an even more sobering perspective.]

[PPS And Bob Geldof, no less, has been saying much the same thing - of course in rather more colourful language.]

Monday, April 17, 2006

Secular Bigots of the Independent

Introducing an occasional series - a gem from Friday's Indie:-

'Sir: Ah, the quiet arrogant sanctimonious ignorance that comes from being a "person of faith". "People of faith remain more likely to give, volunteer, cook a meal for a neighbour, lead a charity, be happy, adjust successfully to ageing and vote", says Francis Davis (Letters, 10 April), with pious assurance. I know many atheists who do all of those things, me amongst them. And we do it not because we are "people of faith" but because we like our fellow men. And we don't need the promise of eternal bliss or 72 virgins or whatever to motivate us, just common humanity.

'"Cook a meal for a neighbour"? Ask the "people of faith" in Ireland, India, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, the Sudan etc when they last did that.'

Touching to know that someone out there is capable of liking even a quietly arrogant, sanctimonious ignoramus like Mr Grumpy. Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

What is racism?

Normblog has a debate between Eve Garrard and Shalom Lappin on Leeds University's suspension of Frank Ellis (see my past posts on the subject here and, more substantially, here).

I esteem both protagonists highly in other contexts, but in this case I think both of them make a crucial omission by not unpacking the concept 'racism'. We have become so used to this being the deadliest of modern sins that we have stopped noticing that it conflates two concepts which are fundamentally different in nature - a moral one and a factual one.

The moral component (let's call it racism A for convenience) is, obviously, the principle that Dr Ellis should not give different marks to two equally able students because one is black and the other white. 'Odious' is a description rightly applied to such behaviour, and if Dr Ellis has been guilty of it he should be sacked forthwith. But in fact this is not what he has been charged with.

The factual component of 'racism' (call it racism B) is the assertion of differences between populations which correlate with racial identity - especially if such differences are alleged to be innate. Dr Ellis believes there is a biologically determined difference between the average intelligences of black and white people. Clearly this is a factual assertion which may be right or wrong. Its truth value is a matter for scientific enquiry, and it is not the case that there is no evidence whatsoever which supports it. That being so, applying the word 'odious' to Dr Ellis's opinion is, strictly speaking, meaningless.

And note that the morally odious behaviour implied by the word 'racist' is not logically entailed by Dr Ellis's opinion about a matter of fact. For he is certainly not committed to the view that every white person is more intelligent than every black person. To take an analogy which exaggerates the point, I think it is reasonable to believe that on average adults are better at composing music than children, but it does not follow that I think I could compose better music than the infant Mozart.

Note also that the question whether Dr Ellis would be fit to serve as a juror in a case involving a black defendant is, logically speaking, a red herring - unless he has also expressed views about innate racial differences in morality and criminality. It is quite conceivable that he is an unusually fair-minded person.

I'm not suggesting that the conflation of racism A and racism B into a single concept is simply arbitrary. Empirically it is obvious that they frequently go together in the sense that beliefs about racial difference are invoked to justify racial discrimination. In reaction to this liberals typically refuse to consider the possibility that the claims of racism B may have any truth to them because they assume that this would legitimate the morally intolerable racism A.

But there is no logical necessity about the connection. It is possible for a white person to hate and despise black people (or vice versa) without having any illusion that there are rational grounds for doing so. Equally it is possible that a white person holding Dr Ellis's views would invariably treat individual black people with faultless courtesy, respect and fairness.

Indeed, where racism A and racism B are conflated into an ideology, it is always illogical and irrational. Factual propositions about racial groups can never supply a moral justification for treating an individual human being as something other than what he or she is. Under apartheid in South Africa you could win a Nobel Prize and still be a second-class citizen because of the colour of your skin. No amount of scientific evidence about racial differences could ever have made this morally tolerable.

Given the lack of a necessary logical connection between racism A and racism B, those who assume that if Dr Ellis holds racist opinions he must be guilty of racial discrimination become guilty of prejudice. The only kind of evidence that would prove him guilty of discrimination is evidence that he does in fact practise discrimination.

PS I wrote in my first post on this topic about the special status of Holocaust denial, and it is worth reiterating the point briefly. Here the factual claim has an inbuilt moral component, for its plain implication is that all Jews, or the vast majority, are morally deficient, being involved in a vast conspiracy to defraud and manipulate the rest of the human race. The historical evidence for the Holocaust is dismissed on the basis of a prior assumption that Jews are congenital liars. Nobody holding this belief can possibly be relied on to treat an individual Jew with the respect due to a fellow human being - whereas this, mutatis mutandis, is precisely not the case with Dr Ellis and his black students.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Greenham grannies

From the Indie: two grandmothers arrested for trying to break into a military base. Predictable outcry from the civil libertarians.

Who seem to me to be overlooking a fairly elementary distinction between protest, which is a basic democratic right, and sabotage, which isn’t. Either we need these bases for our defence or we don’t. If we don’t, let’s close them down and spend the money on schools and hospitals. If we do, they need to be secure, and it is perfectly reasonable for their security to have legal backup. There are, after all, threats which didn’t exist in their present form when Mrs John and Mrs Boyes were camping at Greenham 25 years ago. Of course these women are not ‘the new face of terrorism’, but the law is the law. Or would the Indie rather have laws specifically targetting young men with brown faces?

And who is to decide whether we need the bases? Mrs John makes it quite clear that she wants to physically close them down, given half a chance. I’d prefer it to be our elected representatives who do the deciding rather than a bunch of activists, however many grandchildren they have. When she becomes Prime Minister Mrs John can scrap the lot. But not before.

Friday, March 31, 2006

I disagree with what you say...

So Leeds University have suspended lecturer Frank Ellis for saying that he believes there are innate racial differences in intelligence. If you’re looking for somebody willing to stand up for academic freedom, don’t bother asking a university administrator.

Happily, though, the voice of reason is not so easy to suppress altogether, and it can sometimes be heard from the most surprising source. This is from a BBC item on Dr Ellis a couple of weeks ago:-

Dr Munira Mirza, a tutor in multiculturalism and community relations at the University of Kent, told 5 Live she believed IQ differences could be explained by social and historical factors and did not exist for biological reasons.

But she said: "I don't agree with his views but do defend his right to express them. That is the lifeblood of the campus - people can express views and be held to account for them.

"He's not calling all black people stupid - that is a caricature.

"Academics and students are resorting to lazy, blame-game discussion and not engaging in the debate," she continued.

"I would rather disagree with him openly and explain why his theories do not stand up."

There’s really nothing to add to that. It seems too much to hope that there are many more like Dr Mirza, but the existence of even one tutor in multiculturalism and community relations who thinks like this gives a salutary jolt to my prejudices.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Arrêtez le monde, la France veut descendre

Imagine you are a boss considering giving a graduate her first job. Are you more or less likely to take the risk if you know that, however lazy and incompetent she turns out to be, the only way you can sack her is via a time-consuming, costly and stressful legal process in which you have no guarantee of winning?

A no-brainer, you think? For the students who took to the streets of France on Saturday, merely posing the question evdiently betrays a hopelessly Anglo-Saxon cast of mind.

I saw a man with a greying ponytail interviewed on TV; he said he was proud that his children were showing their generation was not apolitical after all. And which old lefty could resist a pang of nostalgia, seeing the streets of Paris packed with marching students and trade unionists? Sadly, appearances are deceptive.

Le mouvement de mai was a central political reference point for me for a long time. However many illusions I may now think I had, its exuberance, creativity and utopian idealism still hold a certain fascination.

The fear-driven conservatism of Saturday’s demonstrators could hardly be more different. And if the government caves in, as seems highly likely, France will have taken one more step towards the alternative to global capitalism tried and tested in North Korea. It is a sad spectacle for admirers of French culture and, as Will Hutton of the Observer points out, a big worry for Europe as a whole:-

'British Eurosceptics will delight, but a stagnant, angry, drifting Europe is not in Britain's interests. France and the French have lost the plot. This is not just a crisis for them, but for us. If France goes absent, the EU will lose its drive and purpose. And that is exactly what is happening.'

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Top blogger confesses: 'I think Grumpy's job is interesting'

From normblog:-

From the back page of the Bookseller for 10 March:

How boring is this? If you take the ISBN number of any book and multiply the first digit by 10, the second by nine, the third by eight and so on, and then add all the answers together, the total is always divisible by 11.

I didn't find it boring. I tried it with several books, and it was true for all of them. It's no accident.

Any time you'd like to hear some of my best purchase ledger anecdotes, Norm...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Frank Ellis, David Irving and the limits of free speech

Reading the Observer’s Mary Riddell is a pleasure I permit myself only rarely. It simply takes up too much of my time. In her latest offering she examines the case of Frank Ellis, the Leeds University academic who believes there are genetically determined racial differences in IQ, and isn’t afraid to say so. This, we discover to our astonishment, turns out to be the perfect peg on which to hang a manifesto for the priority of political correctness over academic freedom.

Let me give a flavour of her argument by a quote concerning an academic in a different league from Dr Ellis:-

‘Larry Summers recently resigned as president of Harvard after a tenure in which he argued that women were genetically unsuited to the top echelons of science.’

No, Mary, he did not argue anything of the sort. If he had said anything so preposterous he would not be fit to be the Vice-Chancellor of the University of North Basingstoke. But he didn’t. What he did was to suggest that men are more likely on average than women to be genetically equipped to work in the ‘top echelons of science’. It does not mean that no women are so endowed. It does not tell us anything about whether Ms Riddell or I would make the better scientist. Since the numbers of people involved are tiny as a proportion to the human race as a whole, the implied genetic differences between the average man and the average woman are marginal at most.

If Ms Riddell thinks he did argue this – or, worse, if she doesn’t really care whether she has represented his views accurately or not – one is entitled to inquire whether she is suited to a job in the top echelons of journalism. And a fortiori, whether she has any qualifications whatsoever to pronounce on what restrictions ought to be placed on the views that may be expressed on a university campus.

It is bad enough that a heavyweight intellectual has been hounded out of the top job in the world’s most prestigious university for committing thought crimes – the Closing of the American Mind, indeed. It adds insult to injury when the favourite Sunday paper of Britain’s eggheads uncritically relays the myth that has, I strongly suspect, been carefully propagated in order to discredit him.

But we should not, in any case, look to Ms Riddell for an understanding of the value of academic freedom. One of the more bizarre of the article’s many non sequiturs is this:-

‘Why should universities, a crucible of diversity, put up with behaviour that would not be tolerated for a moment in a City boardroom?’

George Orwell would have savoured this sentence. We promote ‘diversity’, that most fashionable of values, by silencing an oddball with unpopular views as soon as the bien pensants take offence. In other words by reducing diversity.

So what of the arguments about intelligence and race? Ms Riddell names one well-known scientist (Arthur Jensen) who claims there is a link and another (Stephen Jay Gould) who rejects the claim. Gould and others are said to have ‘demolished’ it. But what am I to make of this assertion? Her misrepresentation of Summers’ views does not encourage confidence that she is qualified to assess the evidence herself, nor that she has any understanding of what is involved in ‘demolishing’ a scientific theory. I tend rather to understand her as meaning that Gould tells her what she wants to hear. It is, of course, what People Like Us all want to hear – the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal (even if there is nobody to do the creating) and that all inequalities are social constructions which we can and should deconstruct. This is the golden thread that connects us via postmodernism, anti-racism, feminism, liberation theology, social democracy, Marxism, the French Revolution, Rousseau, etc. etc. etc. to the intellectual earthquake which we call the Enlightenment.

And yet, we may all be wrong. We may be wrong even though that would mean that the way we understand our world and the assumptions that guide our action in it really were reduced to rubble.

Allow me to get a little autobiographical. The question of the heritability of IQ has niggled at me for a long time. Circa 1979, when I was a practising Trotskyist, I read a book called The Science and Politics of IQ. The author, psychologist Leon J. Kamin, argued that the alleged evidence for heritability extracted from separated identical twin studies was actually a politically motivated mirage conjured up by sloppy statistics. Though I was almost entirely incompetent to evaluate Kamin’s statistical arguments, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Egalitarianism lived to fight another day – even if the book’s optimistic conclusions did prompt me to wonder how one could arrange for all the world’s children to get the professional middle-class upbringing which was apparently the key to unlock their full intellectual potential.

Around the same time the case of Sir Cyril Burt, the IQ specialist who was discovered to have fabricated an imaginary research assistant and fiddled some of his research, gave us the evidence we needed to dismiss the entire field as the province of arch-reactionary charlatans.

Fast forward to the last couple of years. Very few msm journos will touch the subject at all. But there are occasional exceptions. An article in the Spectator, admittedly a right of centre magazine but a reasonably reputable one, tells me that studies consistently show a correlation between IQ and race. The writer gives no intimations of being animated by racial bigotry, indeed he goes out of his way to establish that he is not, but of course he might just be clever enough to disguise it. In any case, white supremacist pride is somewhat dented here by the suggestion that the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are the brainiest of all.

And even the Holy of Holies has been penetrated. An article in the Guardian suggests that the progressive orthodoxy claiming race to be an ideological construct with no genetic basis is no longer tenable. ‘You’re going to have to deal with this sooner or later, so you may as well put your thinking caps on now’ is in effect the message to the left. By the by, this piece contains the charming insinuation that American Jews are quite happy to lap up racist pseudo-science so long as it is telling them they are the true Master Race. This is the kind of thing that plays well with Guardian readers these days.

Back to Mary Riddell. She wants to convey the impression of dismissively sweeping Frank Ellis’s views into the scientific dustbin where creationism, aromatherapy and the like repose. But methinks she is not quite as confident of her case as she would have us believe. So it is not enough for her to inform us that these views have been demolished; she must immediately add that they are ‘hateful’. They are a cause for ‘fear’ among black students, even though there is no evidence that Ellis has practised academic discrimination (if he has, let the book be thrown at him), and indeed no logical reason why his views should necessarily lead him to do so. It is the same elementary misunderstanding that Ms Riddell betrays in her comment on Larry Summers: Ellis is plainly not claiming that no black people are intelligent enough to study at a university – and it is no compliment to black students to imply that they lack the intelligence to understand this. That’s not the way Ms Riddell sees it, though: ‘[y]oung people are robust and independent thinkers’, she says, but inevitably the next word is ‘but’ – not so robust as not to need shielding from inappropriate exposure to opinions that may unsettle them.

Furthermore, Ms Riddell feels the need to bring additional charges against Dr Ellis to ensure the central allegation that he is an Evil Fascist Bastard is properly substantiated. He ‘blames Africans for getting Aids’. Now I am aware of the huge numbers of individuals tragically infected by cheating spouses, parents, rapists and so on. I also know that progressive orthodoxy forbids us to hold Africans responsible for anything that goes wrong on their continent. But taking the continent’s population as a whole, one must surely concur with the blogger who asks ‘Does she think there is a huge worldwide army of whites holding blacks down and forcibly injecting them with AIDS?’

Dr Ellis also ‘thinks the BNP “a bit too socialist” for his liking’. You follow the innuendo: if he thinks the BNP ‘too socialist’ he is even further to the right than it is, and the further right you are the more racist you must be. QED.

In fact this doesn’t follow at all. Whether the BNP is ‘socialist’ has to do with its economic policies. Now I haven’t studied these myself, as I’m not planning to vote BNP any time soon. But I do know that the party’s ideological mentors did not call themselves National Socialists for nothing, and that many German democrats stood to the conservative side of the Nazis in matters of economics. So the insinuation that Dr Ellis is too racist for the BNP is simply a smear.

Yet another charge against Ellis is that ‘he refers approvingly to “research” claiming an average IQ of 70 for sub-Saharan Africans, a figure “close to, or within the range of mental retardation”.’ This is certainly a shocking figure. But, as Tim Worstall points out, ‘To claim that the current population of the area has a lower IQ than it could (possibly by as much as claimed) most certainly is not [controversial].’ At least some of this is certainly attributable to malnutrition and other environmental causes associated with extreme poverty. The controversial bit is whether such a huge IQ gap can be accounted for by environmental factors alone.

So I see precious little evidence of Dr Ellis having said anything that would justify a curtailment of academic freedom. But now you may well ask, OK Grumpy, so you’re the great defender of free speech, what about David Irving? If you reckon Leeds University should let Ellis keep his job, should they also award Irving the chair of Modern European History as soon as he’s done his time? Mary Riddell invokes his case, disapproving of his imprisonment without telling us whether she would let him teach. But I think there is a crucial difference between the two cases.

The Holocaust is as well attested as any event in history. The volume of eyewitness testimony is immense. The Holocaust denier does not seek to deny that this testimony exists. He (or she I should add in principle, though I’ve yet to come across a female of the species) claims that it is all lies, that all those who claim to have been victims are pathological liars involved in history’s most massive conspiracy. It is a claim that arises out of anti-Semitism and has no other function than to promote anti-Semitism. You don’t have to love Jews collectively to accept that the Holocaust really happened. You just have to not hate them or believe they are subhuman.

When it comes to IQ and race, the jury is out. There are serious scientists on both sides of the argument. The truth is contingent on the findings of a complex and rapidly evolving science. There are reasons why somebody might in good faith, without any racist motivation, find the case for innate racial differences compelling – although it is very hard for such a person to be rightly understood if they go public. Note that I make no judgement as to whether Dr Ellis actually is such a person.

What this means is that, although in both cases there is a taboo in operation, they are opposites in terms of the relation of the taboo to the truth claims involved. The taboo against Holocaust denial arises from respect for a truth whose denial is simultaneously and inextricably both intellectually absurd and morally intolerable. It represents, if you will, an entirely well-founded secular sense of the sacred – and where there is a sense of the sacred, there is an instinctive abhorrence of the blasphemous.

In the case of IQ and race, on the other hand, progressive opinion came to a tacit agreement that a certain view must be intellectually absurd because it was morally – or at least politically - intolerable. It lionized the scientists who supported this consensus and rubbished those who didn’t. It is the pre-existent taboo that shapes Mary Riddell’s (for instance) perceptions of what truth claims may be made. That same secular sense of the sacred is invoked, but here it is fatally flawed because it ultimately rests on political expediency in the place of truth. And truth will out. Galileo was terrorized into retraction, but there was no unthinking what he had thought.

It is this distinction which means there is an arguable case for locking up a Holocaust denier which does not extend to an arguable case for locking up – or even sacking – someone who says there are innate racial differences in IQ. I am well placed to understand the horror evoked in Germany (and doubtless in Austria too) by opinions whose inner logic threatens to drag the country back towards its darkest hour. But if the distinction makes a theoretical case, it also tells us that it is extremely dangerous to proceed in this way in practice. For if Holocaust deniers are locked up as a substitute for refuting their lies, what is to stop those who know no better from inferring that the relationship between taboo and truth is the same as in the case of IQ and race – that the taboo is primary, and the truth claims are shaky? Once that starts happening Irving and friends are really in business. It must not be allowed to happen.

And finally, what if we do find ourselves faced with incontrovertible evidence that Africa trails in the development stakes because its people are innately less intelligent than others? The egalitarian project based on ‘equal by accident of biology’ will have hit the buffers. A revival of Social Darwinism will beckon. Those who wish to reject it will need to abandon the attempt to derive values from scientific facts. ‘Equal in the sight of God’ is ultimately the only watchword which can be relied on to uphold our shared humanity.