UK paperback

Outlaw state

Let us boycott boycotts

Iain (“M.”) Banks, many of whose books I have enjoyed immensely, writes to the Guardian calling for “a full cultural and educational boycott of Israel”:

It would be a form of collective punishment (albeit a mild one), and so in a way an act of hypocrisy for those of us who have criticised Israel for its treatment of the Palestinian people in general and those in Gaza in particular, but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do?

For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state. ((Via Flying_Rodent.))

Outlaw state is, of course, a meaningless term of disapproval, a pseudorational signal of one’s righteous outrage, no more rigorous than rogue state or failed state. If it is meant to mean simply that Israel has committed some actions that are considered to be contrary to international law, then outlaw state hardly helps in that respect to distinguish Israel from — to pick two other countries almost at random — the US or Britain. And the fact that outlaws are often heroic individualists battling a corrupt polity (Robin Hood etc) hardly helps Banks’s rhetorical purpose here.

I have written hereabouts before on why cultural boycotts are stupid, and that still applies (the idea that the refusal of pop musicians and sportsmen to play in South Africa somehow broke the apartheid régime is a fairytale). Iain Banks himself realizes too that it is a stupid (and actually vicious) idea: his plaintive “what else can we do?” doesn’t even pretend to be a justification; it is merely the Politician’s Logic of “Something must be done; this is something; therefore, we must do it.”

So Banks presses on regardless, proposing to cure the “ethical isolation” of Israel by, um, isolating it even more, without, or so it seems, even beginning to imagine how that might affect the balance of internal politics in Israel itself.

Boycott is a rather unlovely word in any case, though that can hardly be helped since it was the proper name of the target of the original boycott. Perhaps calls for such silly courses of action would attract more assent if their proposers invited everyone to join in a botham?



‘Work values’

Thank God for the New York Times, which in this troubling era does not neglect to cover the travails of super-wealthy parents wondering what to do with their feckless children. ((Via Brian Leiter.)) The question on everyone’s lips, of course, is:

How do you raise children who are productive?

The answer? Launch them:

So what is the right way to help a child struggling to find a job or a career? Ms. Godfrey said it could be difficult to get children started, or what she calls “launched.”

“A year ago, when we started to do fairly serious work on the launch process, I thought we were dealing with families who had slackers,” she said. “The more we got into it, the more we realized that these were kids who are educated but are having a tough time getting into a purposeful path that will help them maintain their lifestyle.”

She urges families to set two goals: get children living without subsidies and put them on a career track. “Those families that treat their kids’ launch like any other endeavor are having the most success,” she said.

A child’s launch sounds at once more violent and more passive than, say, “coming out”. Is a sprog who is launched more like a space shuttle, a missile, or a beauty product, readers?


A tax on jobs

And ‘business leaders’

(democracy_grenade reminds me that I had something to say during the election campaign about the tax on jobs, although I said it in a talk rather than on this blog. It went something like this.)

Cameron and Osborne have also had rhetorical help recently in the election campaign from a gang of people whom you might choose to call, depending on your point of view, business leaders, captains of industry, or self-interested plutocrats. Many of them have lined up behind the Conservatives to denounce the proposed one per cent rise in National Insurance contributions as a “tax on jobs”. Well, yes, in a sense, this is a tax on jobs; in the same sense that all taxes can be described as taxes on things we like. VAT is a tax on shopping. Income tax is a tax on work. Fuel duty is a tax on getting to work. And alcohol duty is a tax on relaxing in the pub, trying to forget about your work.

Nonetheless it is obviously useful to the captains of industry, or the self-interested plutocrats, to call a proposed hike in their contributions a “tax on jobs” — even though, as economists have pointed out, the effect of increases in employer “national insurance” contributions is usually that the cost is simply passed on to their employees, so that wages rise less than they otherwise would have done.



Tax wages not profits

So the “fairer” policies of the new ConDem régime include cutting corporation tax while reversing only that portion of Labour’s dreaded jobs tax which was to fall on employers: workers themselves will not now get the pledged threshold raise. As George Osborne blurted last night through the sneering rubber George Osborne mask permanently superglued to his face:

Our aim is to create the most competitive corporate tax regime in the G20.

I feel sure that competitive here is Unspeak for something — but what, readers?


Take a moment to consider

Research, the Janet Street-Porter way

Janet Street-Porter has written something that is particularly vicious and outright untrue even by the usual standards of the Daily Mail:

There’s a big black cloud hanging over parts of the UK, and it’s not going away. Not volcanic ash — but depression. This relatively new ailment appeared on my radar a couple of years ago, when I discovered that more and more women were claiming they suffered from ‘stress’.

Depression is a “relatively new ailment”, perhaps, in the sense that a term used in medical contexts for 150 years (to ignore arguendo the long history of “melancholia” before that) can hardly compete in the longevity stakes with, I don’t know, demonic possession. But wait, Street-Porter does affect to strike a reasonable note:

I am not denying that clinical depression is a real mental illness, or that it can be debilitating for sufferers.

Oh! Okay!

But let’s take a moment to consider whether depression is common among the poor or the working class?

Oh sure, let’s take that moment!

A: [P]eople living in ‘economic hardship’ on a long-term basis, were much more likely to be suffering from clinical depression than those not living in economic hardship.

B: About one in six Americans say they have at some point been diagnosed with depression, and the rate is nearly twice as high for lower-income people […]

C: Children from poor families are more likely than their peers to be depressed as teenagers, with effects that can ultimately make it harder to climb out from poverty […]

D: [C]hronic depressive episodes […] are associated with poorer physical health, lower quality of life, socioeconomic disadvantage and minority status […]

E: [D]epressive and anxiety disorders [in South-East Asia] are disabling and can prevent sufferers from carrying out their tasks at home and in employment and thus have adverse economic implications for the individual, their families and society. Irrespective of the average per capita income of a society, persons who are at the bottom end of the social hierarchy are at a greater risk of suffering from these disorders than those who are at the upper end.

That’s just what I found in 10 minutes’ googling; but I think that must count as a moment, in Street-Porter’s parlance. So, let us see what her own moment of research turned up:

If you’re a black South African woman growing up in a township, or a mum in a slum favela in Rio, or a supermarket shelf-stacker in Croydon, or one of the band of low-paid female workers who go to work at 3am to clean the offices of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain in the City of London, you probably aren’t afflicted by depression.

Oh, right! She asked us to take a moment to consider whether depression is common among the poor or the working class, and I, like a fool, thought that meant something like “consult the mass of available evidence staring you in the internet’s face, like any minimally competent and self-respecting hack would and should do”, whereas what Street-Porter actually wanted me to do — and went on to demonstrate so superbly herself — was just make shit up, drawing a factually false conclusion from purely imaginary anecdotes. This journalism business is easier than I thought!


Everyone pulls together

Proper politics

Glassy-eyed doughboy David Cameron, making repeated little chopping motions with his hand like a malfunctioning karate robot, last night gave his virgin speech as subprime minister.

I aim to form a proper and full coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

He has long been very hot on the word proper, no doubt because its original Anglo-Norman sense was “belonging exclusively to one person, private, personal” (c.1130, from OED).

Real change is not what government can do on its own. Real change is when everyone pulls together, comes together […]

Everyone pulls together, comes together… Well, I am sure there have already been many satisfying rounds of the biscuit game between moist-lipped glottal-stopper David Cameron and his advisors at No 10, but in that case it seems rather unfair that a man should have been handcuffed in his own home for displaying a poster with the word “Wanker” emblazoned over a photograph of our new master?

I believe together we can provide that strong and stable government that our country needs, based on those values, rebuilding family, rebuilding community — and above all — rebuilding responsibility in our country.

So government can’t do much on its own, but one of the things it can do is rebuilding family? How exactly is this to be arranged? Will single mothers be compelled to marry men chosen for them by Conservative central office? Will childless British couples be forcibly gifted with infant asylum-seekers? What is the sort of self-admiring and materially comfortable “libertarian” who complacently supports the Conservatives supposed to make of this fantastic and pernicious nonsense?

Happy new ConLib régime, readers!


To reassure the markets

A great day for plutocracy

As The Race To Run Knifecrime Island (© The Awl) stutters to a Photoshop finish, a phalanx of experts (plus Simon Schama) lines up this morning to say that the most important criterion for any Parliamentary deal is that it be one which will reassure the markets. Which reminds me of Unspeak™, page 209:

How protean, indeed, these markets were. On the one hand, they dispensed God’s justice, free from any interference by merely human justice; yet on the other hand, when the rhetorical occasion demanded, the markets were vulnerable little flowers, in desperate need of “reassurance”.

Economic events of the last few years, it appears, have not proven sufficient to dislodge the assumption that the opinion of the markets is both reasonable and sovereign.

UNSPEAK PREDICTION: if a Lib-Lab deal materializes, it will be presented not as a “coalition”, but as a partnership; maybe even a progressive partnership.

Election open thread, readers!


Let’s grip this

Mass debating

David Cameron, who looks like he has had Botox injections all over his entire face and hair but was turned down for collagen lip implants on the grounds of medical futility and sheer evil, employed a peculiar locution several times in last night’s television “debate”:

CAMERON: Ian is absolutely right. It is completely unacceptable what has happened, and we need to grip it very, very hard to sort this out for the future. […]

CAMERON: [W]e wouldn’t hear on the doorstep or on the streets as we go about this election campaign people worried about immigration, because they’d know their government had listened to them, gripped it, and got it under control. […]

CAMERON: I say, let’s grip this problem. Let’s talk about it sensitively and sensibly. […]

CAMERON: What you can see is two parties that won’t grip immigration, and one that will.

It wasn’t clear, at least while I was watching the video feed through despairingly slitted eyelids, whether pig-eyed demon-haunted rabbit David Cameron was actually making jerky gripping motions with his pudgy furry hands each time he insisted on gripping banks very, very hard (to make sure no money falls out) or gripping immigrants (to strangle them); or whether he constantly had one hand held in a loose cupping position at groin level behind the podium, signalling his fervent desire to grip the entire country by the balls.

Failed “padded Terminator” prototype David Cameron also said:

CAMERON: I believe in this country that if you work hard and you save money and you put aside money and you try to pay down your mortgage on a family home, you shouldn’t have to sell that or give it to the tax man when you die.

That’s right. You should be able to carry on living in your home when you die.’s world-class nanoanalysis of this exciting “debate” doesn’t stop there, though, readers! I also, for your benefit, condensed the entirety of Nick Cleggogg’s (Quorn Flakes)’s contributions down to their essential kernel:

CLEGGOGG’S: Can I try and move beyond the political point-scoring? [goes on to score political point] […]

CLEGGOGG’S: I just feel sorry for Adina who must be completely lost by all this political point-scoring. [goes on to score political point]

Nick Cleggogg’s, there.

Lastly, Gordon “FACEPALM” Brown failed dismally in employing only once the piquant line he had delivered roughly seventy times in the first debate:

BROWN: Let’s be honest.

This means: “You, sir, immobile-jowled slave of Baal David Cameron, are a fucking liar.” Which itself is quite accurate. The beauty of Let’s be honest, of course, is that it needn’t be followed by anything else that is actually true, and usually wasn’t.

Since it is my expert symbolic-psephological conviction, by the way, that Brown’s widely disseminated FACEPALM photograph is more likely to endear him to the hearts of millions than anything else (we all surely recognize that FACEPALM feeling in our own lives), I think that Brown could have declared instant victory at any time during the “debate” by FACEPALMING once again. The fact that he didn’t shows that he was deplorably ill-advised by his gesture-management team, who might at least have wired his lips shut to prevent him from smiling.

This full and frank analysis of the “debate”, then, leaves us only with the obligatory declaration of who “won”. For my part, I feel intensely comfortable in declaring that all other media analysis of this event has been not only wrong but fundamentally stupid and vicious, and that the “debate” was actually “won” by Slash, Fergie, and Cypress Hill, with their new version of “Paradise City”?


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