From the monthly archives:

August 2013

Trust Us

by Maria on August 18, 2013

The Guardian reports that David Miranda, the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, was held at Heathrow all day today under schedule 7 of the 2000 Terrorism Act. Miranda was held for the longest time allowable, nine hours, and released without charge and also without all his consumer electronics.

It’s hard to believe that the UK authorities sincerely believe Miranda, who was transiting through Heathrow, is a bona fide terrorism threat. Greenwald, the journalist who broke the Edward Snowden story, has interpreted his partner’s detention as an act of intimidation or retaliation. It may also be a simple fishing expedition to seize information about third parties such as the documentary-maker Miranda had traveled to Berlin to meet. What, if any, connection these journalists may have to terrorism remains to be seen.

I remember quite vividly when the 2000 Terrorism Act was passed. Although it pre-dated post-September 11 power grabs such as the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, the 2000 legislation was criticised for being loosely drafted and open to the unaccountable abuse of state power. Section 7 is for use only in ports, airports and similar transit zones, and the authorities do not need to have any reasonable suspicion of wrong-doing to invoke it. Those detained have no recourse to legal representation but their refusal to answer questions can be prosecuted as an offense. This law drives a coach and horses through an individual’s right not to be arbitrarily detained or have their belongings confiscated, and the right – conditional in the UK in any case – to silence.

At the time it was passed, the Home Office made the usual airy claims that the Terrorism Act would not be abused. And at the time, campaigners insisted that these claims were not worth the paper they were not written on. The Act itself doesn’t require the government to give any justification for today’s detention, but if the UK border authorities want to clear their name of abuse of state power against individuals a foreign government, the United States, is angry with, they should speak up now.

Krugman, Keynes, Kalecki, Konczal

by John Quiggin on August 18, 2013

Paul Krugman’s recent columns, responding in various ways to JM Keynes, Michal Kalecki and Mike Konczal have made interesting reading, signalling a marked shift to the left both on economic theory and on issues of political economy.[^1] Among the critical points he has made

* Endorsement of Kalecki’s argument (which he got via Konczal) that “hatred for Keynesian economics has less to do with the notion that unemployment isn’t a proper subject of policy than about the notion of shifting power over the economy’s destiny away from big business and toward elected officials.”

* Rejection of the Hicks-Samuelson synthesis of Keynesian macroeconomics and neoclassical microeconomics and advocacy of (at a minimum) comprehensive financial controls

* Abandonment of the idea that the economics profession is engaged in honest intellectual debate, in favor of the conclusion that the rightwing of the profession, including leading economists, is characterized by denialism and bad faith. As he says, while many economists would like to believe otherwise ” you go to economic debates with the profession you have, not the profession you want.”

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If you are only going to read one book on Hamlet this week … well, I guess it could be Stay, Illusion, by Critchley and Webster. (If you’d like to read about it, go here.) But it could also be To Be Or Not To Be, a Chooseable Path Adventure, by Ryan North, Shakespeare, and You! (If you would like to read an interview with Ryan North, click here.)

TBONTB01

The girls and I explored a few paths yesterday. I thought maybe it would be a bit too old for the younger one. It is the story of Hamlet, ‘a teenager in his late thirties’, after all. But she really liked it. Later she asked for the iPad. ‘I was the ghost and I had a chance to explore the bottom of the ocean some more, but I didn’t take it. I wanna do that.’ Fair words! “The ocean, overpeering of his list/ Eats not the flats with more impetuous haste!” than a young lady, playing as Hamlet, Sr., in a chooseable path adventure. “Nothing of him that doth fade, But doth suffer a sea-choice, via author’s snarky voice.”

(Just so you know: it’s not written in mock-Shakespeare-ese. Ryan North is a writer for “Adventure Time” comics, and he goes more for that tone.) [click to continue…]

Vietnam and Historical Forgetting

by Henry on August 16, 2013

“Tyler Cowen”:http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2013/08/the-vietnam-war-was-worse-than-most-people-think.html blogs about Nick Turse’s recent book on the US-Vietnam war, “Kill Anything That Moves.”:http://www.nickturse.com/books.html I’ve been reading it too over the last couple of weeks during infrequent breaks, and have found it extraordinary and horrifying. Turse managed to get access to internal files generated by investigations into possible crimes committed by US troops in Vietnam, and combines this with interviews both with US army veterans and Vietnamese people. The record is partial (it’s clear from Turse’s account that the US archives have been weeded for embarrassing material and that he’s lucky to have found what he did) but damning. My Lai was closer to being the rule than the exception. Casual murder by US troops of women, children and old people as well as young men, torture, rape and collective reprisals were endemic, even before one gets into the more impersonal forms of slaughter.

Turse links this both to the systematic dehumanization of Vietnamese people by US troops (beginning in training) and, more importantly, to the fetishizing of kill counts. Soldiers’ leave and privileges and officers’ promotion chances depended on how many enemy troops were killed. The combination of depicting Vietnamese people as subhuman, ambiguous rules of engagement and organizational incentives to kill as many ‘enemies’ as possible often led soldiers to goose the numbers by killing defenseless civilians or prisoners (for example, one incident after Four Tet in which a US officer ordered prisoners shot in cold blood to improve the kill count). It also led a more general criminal indifference to the consequences of US action at the micro level (e.g. tossing grenades into crude home made bunkers crammed with civilians, on the off chance that there was someone dangerous in there) and the macro (devastating saturation bombing and shelling).

What’s remarkable is how little discussion there is of this. Turse has uncovered emphatic and undeniable evidence, much of it from the US military’s own archives, that US war crimes in the Vietnam war were not only _endemic_ but _systematic._ If you were unfamiliar with US politics, you’d expect this to cause a major public scandal, soul searching and all of that. Similar crimes have certainly caused a scandal in the UK, which has its own vicious history of colonialism, and is now starting to confront the crimes committed by UK troops during their suppression of the Kenyan revolt (mind you that UK officers’ self-glorifying accounts of this conflict were a direct inspiration for the counter-insurgency tactics of Petraeus and others in Iraq). As far as I can see Turse’s book has inspired very little public debate. In general, the right seems committed to some mixture of denying the atrocities in Vietnam, claiming that everyone did it or the misdeeds were somehow justified by what the North Vietnamese did, and blaming the hippies. Latterday liberals acknowledge that bad things happened, but mostly don’t want to open up the can of worms, for fear that they’d be accused of being unpatriotic and hating the troops or something. The result is a strange form of historical forgetting, where there’s a general sense that bad things happened, but no understanding of how general these bad things were, nor desire to hold people accountable for them.

The political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain has died. Many people were fans of her work; I was not.

In her early scholarship, Elshtain established herself as a distinctive voice: feminist, Laschian, Arendtian. By the mid to late 1990s, however, she had descended into cliche.  As she dipped deeper into the well of communitarian anxiety, she would come up with stuff like “the center simply will not hold.” When she worried about the loss of historical memory, she would say “we are always boats moving against the current, ‘borne back ceaselessly into the past.'”

Every sentence felt like a windup to an inevitable, unsurprising conclusion. Any author or topic she mentioned, you knew the exact quote she was going to pull. [click to continue…]

While in an unusually masochistic mood, I read all of Steven Pinker’s astonishingly wordy essay on science science science science did I tell you how much I love science? Just as there are few clearer signs that one cannot program a computer than to publicly call yourself a “hacktivist” and few clearer signs that you didn’t do statistics at university than to boast that you’re a “data geek”, Pinker, who made a perfectly decent academic career as a computational linguist, and then an absolutely stellar one by making up a load of rubbish about social sciences really sounds like he’s overcompensating for something. Everyone’s happy about the moon landings and curing smallpox and all that, but it really is a bit unseemly to imply that if you object to Pinker and his mates constantly gobbing off about things they don’t want to bother learning about, you’re in favour of unanaesthetised dentistry. The whole olive-branch-I’m-only-here-to-help thing is made particularly ridiculous of course, by the quite colossal strop that Pinker is still throwing even to this day about “postmodernism” and the way in which he reacts to the idea that scientists are human beings operating in a social context, and that therefore the things they do are a potential subject of sociological analysis.

Anyway, if you want to read a lot of very tendentious stuff about the role of science in literature and music, and if you want to be told that evolutionary psychology approaches and “the epidemiological dynamics by which one person affects others” (he means memes, but presumably has been told about the cat pictures thing) are much much more mainstream and universally accepted than they really are, then there it is. Because that isn’t really my subject here, more of an introductory toccata on the theme of run-on sentences.

I wanted to highlight this interview which Chris pointed out to me on Twitter, and which contains this quite startling passage, which was skipped over by the interviewer in such a manner as to suggest that it’s a mere commonplace of British university administration.
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A Woman Rice Planter

by Belle Waring on August 14, 2013

[This post is not entirely about Oprah Winfrey. FYI. It discusses a former slaveowner’s attempts to run her plantation after emancipation.]
Rest easy everyone! We’re cool! The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto has sussed out this Oprah situation in a way that I think you will all find correct and satisfactory. And what is more reliable than the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal?

Jesse Jackson hasn’t yet declared Zurich the new Selma, but from some of the news coverage you’d think Oprah Winfrey was the next Rosa Parks…It seems there was a language barrier: The clerk’s English isn’t great, and Winfrey probably doesn’t speak Swiss. “This is an absolute classic misunderstanding,” the store’s owner, Trude Goetz, told Reuters…What Winfrey construes as a racial episode is actually a story about class–a wealthy, privileged celebrity aggrieved by a lowly saleswoman’s lack of deference…It’s reminiscent of the endlessly repeated claim that criticism of Barack Obama proves racism is alive and well in America. Somehow Obama’s defenders are unable to see past the color of his skin and notice that he is president of the United States. As for Winfrey, she went all the way to Europe to discover that racism is alive in America.

Golly, don’t I feel a fool now! Thanks, the Wall Street Journal! With that out of the way I have something that is interesting and amusing to share with you, rather than something melting down with white-hot rage like a nuclear reactor core in a devastating accident. Let’s just wish we were down in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten, but–look away!
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I hate to be a pest, but …

by Maria on August 13, 2013

One thing about being a feminist for a length of time that can most conveniently be measured in decades is the repeated and yet always surprising head-slap of ‘are we still there? I thought that went out with shoulder-pads’. I don’t know if it’s me living in my head too much, or living in too many different countries and losing track of where most people actually are on equality, but am I the only one who finds herself looking around in a daze of cultural jet-lag and thinking ‘But we talked about it already. You can’t still be doing that‘.

Feminists have a lot to learn from our natural allies and brothers and sisters in arms, the gay rights movement. The main thing I’d like to know from them is how to bring about a 180 degree change in millions of individuals’ opinions on gay marriage in under twenty years, wherein no-one now remembers when they actually stopped thinking gay people were weird, icky and in some pre-ordained way destined to live short, unhappy lives, outside of the natural bonds of romance, matrimony and dullness, and how now everyone is sure they always thought this way and isn’t Elton John a dote with his cute little babies and if I had twins and I could afford it, you know what, they would be just as matchy matchy, too?

But how is it, that in my adult life we started off – in Ireland, anyway – fighting for contraception (Tick. Too late for my college career, sadly.) and equal rights at work, and yet now, twenty years on, women are publicly threatened with anal rape if they dare to be happy Jane Austen’s face will soon appear on the five-pound note? Has no one read, oh, I don’t know, Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison and Marilyn French (who I first read for the sex bits and subsequently learnt from that housework is irredeemably political), or Catherine McKinnon or Luce Irigaray, or even Caitlin Moran on how Brazilian pubic waxes are weirdly infantilizing? Do we really have to keep re-writing every word of this stuff for each successive generation? And, seriously, do we really have to keep pretending that long since trashed arguments about men-only golf and social (exclusion) clubs are still worthy of a hearing? (Max Hastings. FT. Don’t bother.)

How is it that during the twenty years of my adult life when most people have come, via some almost unobserved cultural osmosis, to believe that gay people are people, too, that I’m still expected to be polite and nonjudgemental and entertain all sorts of nonsense about Page Three, slappers who drink alcohol and are thus asking for it, thirteen-year old child abuse victims being called ‘predators’, little girls wearing t-shirts that advertise their pre-sexuality and all-round dumbness, women being less than a quarter of people interviewed on radio news programmes, or indeed completely absent, whether the topic is breast cancer or the economy? And those are just silly season absurdities, not the complex, grinding and deeply un-sexy numbers of continued, largely unchanged structural sexual inequality.

And why haven’t Daft Punk ever collaborated with a bloody woman?
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The Cronut of The Summer of The August. Of Racism

by Belle Waring on August 13, 2013

Do you know how I would describe the actions of a powerful black woman against a defenseless fraulein, if I were, like, not racist at all? CANNIBALIZATION. *[I am wrong here–please read the ETA for why.] Buh–huhh? What now? WTF? Cannibalization, are you out of your ever-lovin’, blue-eyed, mind; this is part of your defense against people thinking you’re racist? Probably that’s just from laying down with the Daily Mail and getting up with pubic lice, as the venerable British saying goes. Oh, what’s this you say, over here? The original article in German? “Sie ist so mächtig, und ich bin bloss eine Verkäuferin. Ich habe niemandem etwas zuleide getan. [Sniffles audible–ed.] Ich verstehe auch nicht, weshalb sie das so gross im TV ausschlachten muss.” My German is rusty, so first I thought, that’s just some form of ausschlagen and the Daily Mail are being a bag of racist dicks per the uge’, but–naw, this is–oh, no, I can’t eve–God, why? For real, cannibalize! Apparently Swiss people are so racist, this is how you can explain you’re not racist! Also, by explaining that you can’t be racist because you’re Italian! [Raises hand, tentatively, ‘excuse me, I–] And, erm, this explanation works great for British people, apparently. And American Gawker readers eat this shit up with a spoon! OMG! Racism is the Cronut for the summer of this August you guys! CANNIBALIZE. No, for real. Cannibal.

I started writing the other day because I wanted to talk about how John’s question, “when did it stop being acceptable to say mind-bogglingly racist things in public?” is half a good question and half a misleading one. In politer society certain awful things were never acceptable to say. As time has passed the band of “can say ‘x’ and retain future political career” has been getting narrower, and higher, and that’s a good thing. But on the other hand, people who were racist never really stopped much being racist, or saying and doing stupid racist stuff. One thing that remained true was that certain words and phrases continued to be considered low-class and redneck even as many other whites remained very racist indeed. Thus we have the continual problem of rural whites doing something obviously racist (like the MO rodeo clown show (I am pretty certain this applies to their state legislature but have not done the research)) and then they are stuck simulaneously saying ‘that wasn’t racist’ and ‘you’re the real racists, playing the race card,” and “AIDS is thinning the herd in Africa and among blacks here in America–I call it natural selection for our country–no racism.” [Promise for real quote which I have cleaned up and can’t be bothered to find among 4,000 new ones on the rodeo article.]

Everybody on the internet is dissecting this thing 12 ways to Sunday and why? Why? Because they’re sexist and racist, I’m so flattered that y’all even asked! No, but a boringly obvious thing happened: A store attendant in Zurich didn’t recognize her (fine), so she treated Oprah like crap because she was racist. Yes, racially prejudiced against black people, is where I’m going with this. R-A-C-I-S-T. OMG, and yet an Italian person! Totally unbelievable, right, be… Later, Oprah was asked in an interview about the last time she experienced racism or racial prejudice. She said that because of her current social position it’s rare, but that when she’s the only minority and the only woman in a huge boardroom she still can tell they think she doesn’t belong. Then she told this story and that it had happened in Zurich, while she was out sans entourage or fake lashes but with [gestures to face] “my full Oprah on.” She did not name the boutique (this detail was ferreted out by gossip site TMZ) or the shop assistant (who is still anonymous.) THE END. CANNIBALS.

Please, please, go read the comments on the Daily Mail, and at Gawker, and elsewhere, and think, ‘these are my people over here. This is who I’m all about identifying with in this situation.’ Y’all know to whom these comments are directed, ye “I’m Richard Dawkins, except about all of left politics, fnarf! Sucks to be you, women and most non-white people, unless you’re willing to take part in the matinée, evening and sometimes midnight showings of the ‘Richard Dawkins is Right About Everything Finger Puppet Theatre'”-types. You begin to cease to interest me.

In conclusion, CANNIBALIZE.

*ETA: My German being, as I said, not the greatest, I trusted my dictionary for this one word and got only “cannibalize,” but I didn’t read carefully enough and get examples. I assumed the Daily Mail was just completely making things up, and my shock at seeing them (apparently) be right overrode my lexical caution. I was wrong. Commenter js suggests and commenter David Woodruff pretty well confirms, that this is “cannibalize” in the “we cannibalized the three crashed planes for enough parts to get the fourth off the ground” sense and not the “we stood around with bones in our hair saying ‘ooga booga’ while stirring a huge cast-iron pot with a skinny Italian woman inside, and we had it on a nice simmer, with some celery and carrots and onion and bay leaves in there” sense. So, we can continue to marvel at the racial cluelessness of a woman who argues that she cannot possibly be racist because she is Italian, and you should read the Daily Mail article carefully to see why her story is implausible in every detail, but I was wrong in my central accusation that she was calling Oprah a cannibal.

Nonetheless you all should continue to read the comments on the article, at, perhaps most surprisingly, Gawker, where the “cannibalize” quote is taken for granted and yet most everyone, every, everyone takes the shop assistant’s side. What reason does Oprah have to lie? How many reasons does this other woman have to lie?

It Was Probably Rodeo Classism

by Belle Waring on August 12, 2013

Missouri had its annual State Fair just now. Our overseas readers may be interested in State Fairs. They have food, and rigged carnival games, and ancient tilt-a-whirl rides of dubious stability being tended to by men whose facial hair choices are, if possible, yet more dubious, each with a Marlboro dangling from their lower lip, or a Newport, or, OK maybe they’re chewing tobacco, and, indeed it could be snuff, I admit. They all look ‘shifty-eyed’ if they haven’t gotten waaaay down to the end of the line and look ‘actively malevolent/probably a serial killer who will murder a small child at the close of the fair and ritualistically use its blood to lubricate the “Roll-O-Plane” as he does in his grim trek through all 48 states, every year since 1996.’ State Fairs also always involve judging the quality of cows, pigs, chickens, blah, emus, blah, Kodiak bears (I haven’t researched Alaska’s 4H offerings) that have been raised by children in the 4H program. The 4H program teaches children how to raise cows, or–oh wev. They often judge pies and stuff also and then make pronouncements: “Mrs. Henrietta Criswell, your sweet potato pie is the finest in all of Missouri!” and then probably she’s carried around on people’s shoulders while they sing “for she’s a jolly good fellow.” Food endemic to carnivals, such as funnel cake, is always served, and then there are state specialities, like in the unnamed square states in the middle of the country, where they fry sticks of butter. At the Maryland State Fair two competing Baptist churches sell crab cake sandwiches. Compete on, brothers and sisters in crab-cake agape. Compete on. I prefer one but can’t remember which so always need to eat both. Missouri’s State Fair has rodeos on account of its location…ah…not out West at all but RODEO no backsies. Rodeos are actually very fun to watch (I’ve only seen them on TV, but it was fun.)

Well, someone’s in trouble tonight! Because they had one of the rodeo clowns (who have the actually quite dangerous job of distracting the enraged bull so that the thrown or injured rider can get out of the ring) wear an Obama mask. Oh no, you’re thinking. Oh yes, sorry, this is going where you thought: a kick right in the balls of racial harmony. Allow me to prëempt a certain type of stupid First Amendmentry by noting that the Fair got $400,000 from the state to put this on. This was not a private racist rodeo.

[Audience member Perry Beam reports:] “Basically, a clown wearing a mask of President Barack Obama came out during the bull riding event at the fair. The crowd was asked if it wanted to see Obama ‘run down by a bull. We’re going to smoke Obama, man,’ says announcer…[this is met with wild cheers and applause] Egged on by the crowd and the announcer, one of the clowns ran up and started bobbling the lips on the mask and the people went crazy. Finally, a bull came close enough to him that he had to move, so he jumped up and ran away to the delight of the onlookers hooting and hollering from the stands.”

Ha, ha, ha. You thought you were OK, right? Then you got to “bobbling the lips on the mask” and you doubled over in agony, suddenly immobilized by a kind of vicarious shame and embarrassment, amirite? Kick right. In. The. Junk, people, I warned you.

ETA: the rodeo clown also has a broomstick stuck up his a$S, something I hadn’t really focused on till it was pointed out by Uncle Kvetch in comments. As I said, I’m just praying no one in Missouri every travels to NY and knew anything about Abner Louima ever or I will die more.

Awkward Conversations We Have Had

by Belle Waring on August 9, 2013

My brother has had, really. I was going to put this in a comment but realized I couldn’t let it languish down there. I thought of this because it is such a piquant combination of ‘I’m laughing’ and ‘the blood is draining from my face as I contemplate the lived horrors of chattel slavery.’ There’s not so all-fired many anecdotes you can say that abou-naw, I can think of 6 or so right away and if I called my pops and my brother and sister I’m sure I’d get up to 30-odd. So, frex, my brother was really good friends with Charles Pinckney, who both had a summer house down the bluff from us on Pinckney Island and was a fellow boarder at St. Alban’s in D.C. One day–PSYCH different story!

When my brother got to USC (not that one. The other, less evil one) and he walked into his dorm room, his new roommate was shocked. (This was before there was Facebook.) “You’re white!” My brother had to concede that this was so. His roommate continued to be startled and amazed. “Sorry, I just assumed you were a brother. I mean, I have met a lot of people in South Carolina named Waring and they have all been black. I have never met anybody named Waring who was white till now.” I am unsure as to what, exactly, my brother said. I really wouldn’t have known how to get out of there gracefully. ‘Ah, yes, about that, well, you see. It used to be that… That is to say there were…we. Uh. Did you know that after the Civil War, freed slaves often…arrrglegggh [Belle pretends to be choking on a boiled peanut shell].’ I believe my brother actually re-directed the conversation with a well-timed, “hey, you want to fire this up?” in which no one was accused of depositing excess saliva on the cottonmouth killer. Gameslifemanship for the ages, people.

The diaries of Hannah Senesh

by Eszter Hargittai on August 9, 2013

I saw a special exhibition recently (special in various senses of the word) that I wanted to recommend: Fire in My Heart: The Story of Hannah Senesh showing through September 8th at the Illinois Holocaust and Education Center in Skokie just outside of Chicago. It’s a touching tribute to an amazing young woman who was killed by firing squad in 1944 at age 23 having been captured and tortured while on a mission to help Jews escape from Hungary.

Through diary entries and her letters to her mother and her brother, we learn of a girl and young woman who was wise beyond her years with quite a sense of humor. The exhibition starts out with scenes from 1930s Budapest depicting what seems like just another middle-class family. The fact that the family happens to be Jewish doesn’t come across forcefully at all at first, something quite true of many Hungarian Jewish families, both then and now. But as the years pass and Jews are increasingly treated as “the other”, young Anna (her Hungarian name was Szenes Anna) starts realizing that she may not have the same opportunities as others, whether in school or in love. She decides to emigrate, eventually joining the British Army and becoming part of a parachuting mission.

The exhibition does a nice job of sharing her writing (both diary entries and poetry) as well as showcasing all sorts of artifacts from her life. It is remarkable that her family was able to retain all of these materials.

I couldn’t tell if it would be a traveling exhibition. With the effort that went into compiling the material, I would hope so, but it doesn’t look like it so if you’re in the area or were looking for a reason to visit, do stop by in the next few weeks. Alternatively, several books have been published about her life and with her writing. I haven’t read them so don’t have specific recommendations, but I do recommend reading up on her story.

Maternity leave; not ALL bad, you know

by Maria on August 8, 2013

I’ve never been fortunate enough to take maternity leave, but boy have I benefited from it. When I changed career in the late 1990s from film and tv production in Ireland to technology policy in the UK, my first two jobs started as maternity cover positions. I was hired by the Confederation of British Industry and then by The Law Society to be an Internet policy wonk at a time when that was such a new thing, there were maybe half a dozen jobs doing it in the UK and I was one of the first people who’d trained especially for it. (The LSE hadn’t heard of Internet policy either, tbh, but they bemusedly let me write a Masters dissertation on it, because, well, why not?)

But the point is I don’t think either organisation would have been as keen to take a punt on a career-changer like me in a permanent job, even though both subsequently offered me one. A 9 – 12 month interim position was ideal for all three parties; me getting an opportunity to help create a new field, the employer trying out someone new effectively for free (everyone seems to forget that in the UK statutory maternity leave is paid by the government), and the person whose job it was who could take their proper leave and then come back to work.

Of course, where it gets messy and unfair is when employers decide they like the shiny new person more and shunt the returning worker aside, or when they don’t bother to cover the position at all and expect the existing workers to pick up the slack. I’m not saying those things never happen, even in a system where we have decent-ish protections for working mothers, just pointing out one happy though unintended consequence of maternity leave.

UPDATE: Of course the reality for UK working mothers on their return is often far from rosy, with half of them saying their careers have utterly stalled since having children, and a quarter believing they are discriminated against: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-23600465

Fingerprinting migrants in France: the back story

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2013

The big item on this morning’s UK news (Guardian, BBC) is a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, that is highly critical of the UK Border Force. Large sections of the report have been redacted, leading opposition politicians, such as Labour’s Chris Bryant, to accuse Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Mark Harper of a “cover up”. What struck me about the report, though, was the basic failure in reporting by the news media, such that the ordinary reader or listener would really not understand the back story.

From the BBC report:

But inspectors found UK officials at Calais had stopped taking photographs and fingerprints of illegal immigrants in 2010 because of problems with the availability of cells to hold people in. This was also later stopped at Coquelles. Mr Vine said: “Gathering biometric information such as fingerprints could assist the decision-making process if these individuals were ultimately successful in reaching the UK and went on to claim asylum.”

The reporting follows the UK Home Office in stigmatizing people as “illegal” in advance of any judicial process, but it also fails to explain the background in the Dublin Regulation that states that people can only claim asylum in the first EU country they enter. This means that states in northern Europe, such as the UK, can disclaim responsibility for people fleeing persecution, just so long as they can show that the asylum seekers were previously present in another member state. This adds to armoury of extra-territorial checks (fines on carriers etc) that make it impossible for asylum seekers to reach the UK legally. Since most asylum seekers enter the EU through southern Europe (many dying in leaky boats in the Mediterranean), the Dublin Regulation effectively assigns responsibility to those states least able to cope (partly because of the Eurozone crisis) and where racism, xenophobia and violence towards foreigners is most marked. (There are regular horror stories about the suffering of asylum seekers in Greece.) A progressive policy would both recognize our humanitarian obligations towards refugees and put in place a mechanism for sharing that responsibility fairly across all EU member states. Unfortunately, rather than campaigning for such a policy, politicians of the “left” in northern Europe, like Bryant, use episodes like this to make a noise about “controlling our borders”.

Why Is Racism Unacceptable?

by John Holbo on August 7, 2013

Greetings from the road. I’ve been chivvying little girls around the globe for a few weeks, which interferes with keeping up one’s CT duties. So our text today is taken from one of the few literary works I’ve had a chance to read with real discernment, at leisure. The August issue of the Delta inflight magazine! 

The article in question is a celebration of the 50th anniversery of King’s “I Have A Dream Speech”. A number of prominent Atlantans reflect on its significance, generally and personally. (Hey, you can read it online. Who knew? Who ever links to articles in inflight magazines?)

It’s the sort of feel-good, unlikely-to-offend fare you expect from an inflight magazine. But the fact that MLK, his legacy and most famous speech, are fodder for such fare is noteworthy. In 1963, who would have expected that, a mere 50 years on, MLK would be not just a moral hero to many, but a non-polarizing, nominal hero to nearly all. Democrats love him, of course. And Republicans – although they may vote against MLK day and try to chip away at his pedestal every couple of years – are really more interested in making out, rhetorically, how they, not Democrats, are the true heirs to his legacy and philosophy (which has been so cruelly betrayed by the Democrats). As Orwell said about Dickens: MLK is a figure well worth stealing.  [click to continue…]