An alternative to EasyCouncil

Okay, there are some clear points of fact in Barnet council’s new initiative to save money, for example public spending cuts look set in stone for the next government, the council itself is bracing for a 15% funding reduction, its tightest spending squeeze since 1977, and to boot the idea is to save £16 million in preparation. How will it do it? By organising the terrain for inequality.

Do you think I’m jumping the gun a little? Carry on reading.

The analogy of the day is the EasyJet business model, which provides a basic service, and offers features such as sandwiches or drinks – non-necessities compared to, say, a seat – for an extortionate price. £4.99 for example will buy you 25ml of vodka for those of you interested. As such, the council will provide a basic no-frills service, a reduced-sized bin or for those who require adult social care in Barnet “budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer”. EasyCouncil it shall be called.

Seems modest enough, but to me there remains a major alternative to the revolutionary approach by Barnet. Namely, the idea of sensible public service spending can be achieved by a reallocation of funding rather than the EasyCouncil way. Reallocation for the local government allows for a renegotiation of necessities; say if it is vital to employ 24 hour wardens in care homes this should be prioritised over building a new welcome centre in the local natural park.

If I could exemplify where I live for a moment, in Pitsea, Essex, the first phase of a regeneration has been approved by the local council which means creation of a new visitor centre at Wat Tyler Country Park, the development of a local School into the East Basildon Academy, 500 new homes, 20,000 square metres of retail, improved community facilities, including 5,000 square metres of leisure space, improved links to the railway station and a reinvigorated market. Lets say hypothetically that funding for the local council was to be cut and the homes situation needed priority over the visitor centre and allocating of space for retail purposes (which seems to me to be the case), the money set for the least necessary item would be reallocated to department in charge of the most necessary item, this would also mean that those in charge of allocating money to different departments have a clearer idea of what is necessary (though admittedly my example is rather obvious, by which I mean it is clear that homes are more important than visitor centres and retail space) and it would also mean that departments were not forced to spend all of their allocated money unnecessarily thereby putting into jeopardy being allocated that much money for a time when they do need it.

Another example, a local school may not need as much funding one year due to the proportionally fewer students requiring special education needs, but the school is obliged to spend their funding in order to secure that amount for next year when they predict they will need as much funding with the proportionally higher amount of children who have special education needs. Year-by-year reallocation based upon necessity can bypass this problematic.

A spending plan that is based upon necessity over non-necessity does not have to preclude the state in any way, and in fact by including the state we sidestep a system that is based entirely upon the ability to pay for it. Services should be subsidised for the reason that a system based on ability to pay marginalises those who deserve certain services – like 24 hour wardens in care homes – but are unable to pay for it. Just imagine the outrage if an idealistic young MEP had called for this type of service in the department of health. All hell would break loose.

The problem here is that the no-frills system doesn’t solve the problem of necessary spending (which seems to be the original problem). To focus on EasyJet, the option to pay a charge in order to be first on the plane seems quite frivolous, and though it puts the option to the passenger – of whether you feel the need to put up some money to jump the queue – it doesn’t solve the problem of whether its necessary to put up that money in order to be first on the plane. The analogy is clear, if its necessary for someone to get on first, perhaps they can’t stand up for long periods of time, but they cannot afford the cost, whereas someone who is just jumping the queue for they see it as their affordable right to, then the system has legitimised inequality.

It may not seem quite as important for the simple matter of a plane journey, but applied to the services that one might receive, for an affordable service that caters for everyone, following the guidelines of necessity and reallocation appropriately, that doesn’t have to appeal to this business model that cuts back on services to legitimise an able to pay model, it is rather important. When the system of public services is structured upon the ability to pay and not a system of privileging necessities in order to balance budgets, then we are in trouble.

Why I am not an agnostic

Redirected from an article I had written last year:

“If God did exist”, asks the advert for the Alpha course that I see on a regular basis in London tube stations and across buses “what would you ask?” After spending a couple of minutes deciding what I’d ask God (namely, why am I an atheist?) I wonder why Alpha has chosen to present the question with the indecisive subordinating conjunction if. The atheist bus advert, too, adds its own measure of uncertainty: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” (I’ve added my own italics for emphasis).

Despite my knowledge of Alpha’s obvious Christian motives and the evident conviction of the likes of Richard Dawkins, who supported and partly funded the atheist bus campaign, both questions, for me, really hit the mark. That is to say uncertainty on the question of God is the only logical conclusion to make.

But why then am I an atheist and not an agnostic? Surely, it could be asked, agnosticism would be the obvious philosophical view to subscribe to? Not the case.

My reasons for being an atheist, unlike many others, do not promptly derive from appeals to science for there seems to be an inherent dead end to any scientific endeavour on matters of God. This has particular appositeness at the moment when debates on how atheists and the religious should treat Darwin reignite, 150 years after the publication of his book On the Origin of Species.

The cosmological argument for example, like the problem of evil, has compelling adherents from both sides. The principle that everything is caused has some people asking who or what caused the first cause, on one side it is God who caused the first cause whereas on the other side the existence of God puts into jeopardy the original principle evoking the question “who caused God?” God, some might say, is not bound to the same physical laws that inhabit the world of phenomena for he is a transcendental being. And of course, though the other side cannot argue this case to be false, they might not accept it to be true.

Similar are the arguments from beauty which could potentially have some asking how such a beautiful universe couldn’t have a designer and, also, some agreeing with the original premise while disagreeing with the sentiment wondering why we have such an obsession with positing an intelligence. The anthropic principle has support from people with arguments that the universe is so fine-tuned to meet the needs of human existence that there must be a God, and arguments that demand to show how lucky we are that humans were able to exist without such an omnipresence.

I view the natural sciences in much the same way; the theory of evolution for example should not be limited to atheists solely, as Richard Dawkins would have it. Dawkins’ atheism is in fact entirely drawn from his belief in science, something that encompassed one of his many debates with fellow atheist and palaeontologist the late Stephen Jay Gould. For Gould the natural sciences might present challenges to certain theistic beliefs, but they cannot rule out the existence of God. The discipline of science covers empirical facts like what the universe is made of and how it works but cannot deal with some of the magisterium (a word that Gould designates for “a domain where one form of teaching holds the appropriate tools for meaningful discourse and resolution” in his book Rock of Ages) that religion deals with. A common error is that scientific pursuit lends itself easily to a worldview, a mistake that Dawkins and the Creationists both have in common.

So my atheism is more Gould than Dawkins in the sense that the natural and physical sciences do not logically assert any one worldview or even answer the question of whether or not God exists. I also feel that religion is a decent contender in the multitude of ethical systems that exist in society, and have nothing against the approach Archbishop Rowan Williams took with his students that he talks about in a recent book by Mick Gordon and Chris Wilkinson entitled Conversations on Religion, regarding the principle of biblical selection, saying “St. Paul didn’t think he was writing the New Testament. He was just writing letters, you know “Dear so and so…”.” The lesson being that Paul was not faultless and didn’t set out specifically to write the most influential text the world has ever seen and will ever see again. He, for this reason, might have been short of the mark in certain specific areas or a product of his time in his personal attitudes, but there are obvious moral precepts there that should be embraced, and even the most hardheaded atheist should remember the religious root in those morals.

All of us, whether religious or not, have perfectly reasonable beliefs that we cannot prove to be true (indeed atheism is the belief in a non-belief in God) in the sense that if someone was to say that the computer with which you are typing on does not exist, though it is not entirely possible to prove that their claim is false, we probably shouldn’t believe it to be true and follow it with the question of how they ever came to reach that conclusion in the first place. The same, I think, goes for belief in God, though I cannot prove true or false the premise, I question the logical and empirical grounds the claim is based upon, and that is why I am an atheist and not an agnostic.

Fancy doing an internship with David Amess MP?

From W4Mp

21432/Intern, for David Amess MP (Southend West)
Salary: None, but reasonable cake expenses will be covered.
Posted on 27 August 09, closes on 04 September 09

(advert slightly altered for comic effect)

With a dismissal of context, we risk missing the real reasons for opposing Hannan

Dan Hannan has tripped over the line in the sand again with his favourable comments on Enoch Powell, again on American television. All the bigger left blogs have spoken about how they feel and they can roughly be divided into Sunny (Hundal, who notes that even the mere implication of Powell’s name is deserved of condemnation) and Sunder (Katwala, who notes that Hannan was in no way alluding to Powell’s immigration views, but rather his euroscepticism, which is in tune with Hannan’s overall project).

Both make good points, with Sunny the notion that mention of Powell can conjour up images of NF banners “Enoch was right” has real weight, but Sunder points out that in 2007 Hannan specifically pointed out in an article written in the Daily Telegraph that Powell was right on the idea of an independent Britain andn specifically erroneous on the subject of immigration.

It is enough to criticise Hannan on the things we can be sure of (all of which can be found in various places on this blog). Firstly there was the issue with Hannan encouraging British ex-pats in Spain to vote for a party with traditionally Francoist roots, then Hannan pledged support for Kaminski when his antisemitic past was revealed, and what’s more is Kaminski soon after pledged his own support for the Lisbon Treaty, which Hannan is vehemently against. Then there is the issue with Hannan pouring scorn on the NHS in the US where healthcare reform is being debated, Hannan using some rather dubious arguments such as Singapore does healthcare better, and that the NHS does not provide, despite this being an out and out obfuscation of truth.

Hannan has plenty to be criticised about, now that he is back from his holiday, but with this latest incident, headlines by the Mirror such as NHS-hating Tory Daniel Hannan at centre of racist storm do run the risk of moving the goalposts and losing the real point of Hannan’s wrongdoings. Certainly this will be an embarrassment for the Tories – already struggling to downplay all the attention Hannan is getting – but will calling Hannan racist put into proper context how deeply wrong this MEP really is?

Do we really want Mandy as the face of the party?

To repeat that oft used phrase it is not often I agree with Letters from a Tory today reading his letter to Peter Mandelson made me smile in agreement.

Regarding the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, LFaT points out that

You [Peter Mandelson] apparently spoke briefly about the case with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi while on holiday in Corfu, yet your spokesman had the nerve to suggest that the subsequent reports of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi’s possible release from jail were “entirely coincidental”.

My own support for the Labour party was not informed by a love of coincidental meetings, but this and the letters containing the words lets keep this whole ordeal away from the media, it is sleaze politics and it doesn’t excite me. Lets not get carried away, the conspiracies that this was all to do with business deals is all without foundation at the moment, but when enough of a gap is left open, enough to see that much is to be hidden, then this raises the voters eyebrows and it is at the expense of the party.

What was that other coincidental meeting Mandelson attended the other day

You are proposing cutting the broadband connection from users who swap copyrighted content, which has outraged internet providers who said that it would breach fundamental rights and would not work.  Even though this proposal was rejected by Lord Carter, the former Digital Britain minister and Downing Street special adviser, a matter of months ago, you have mysteriously changed your mind.

Now simple decorum would have done nicely here, namely, do not change your mind from something reasonable (like a reasonable crack down on illegal internet activities) to something potentially illegal (like cutting off a music downloader’s internet connection altogether) after meeting for dinner with David Geffen, the billionaire producer, then allowinng officials to claim that the topic of internet piracy did not come up.

Now the trouble with all this is, as sleazy as it may seem, as slim as it may look, the case that these examples were mere coincidence is plausible. It is damaging, but it may be unfounded. So what is there to be concerned about Mandy for, from the perspective of a Labour supporter?

Despite appeals from Mandelson that he will never become leader through choice, one or two aspects seem to show that his being head honcho through other means goes a way into undermining the leadership, and this doesn’t include the speculation that he was leader of the country via blackberry during his holiday.

Peter Mandelson’s part in the undermining of Brown when he announced, unknown by anyone else, particularly Brown himself, that Brown would engage in a live television debate – though I think everybody knows Brown would be up to it – was if not rude then rather up front of Mandelson. For someone who has no apparent desire to be leader one day, he has a way of making sure his powerful presence is known.

With Jack Straw’s new move to qurantine peers for 5 years who want to sit as MPs has caused speculation that it is a personal swipe at his foe Mandelson. But Straw has flatly denied this, and indeed the rule does apply to all sitting peers. But where are the explicit efforts to curb Mandy’s power inside the party?

The further speculation that Mandelson will resign from the Lords in order to save the party from despair and obscurity will obviously have some high end supporters. But is his really the face we want fronting the party? He who holidays with the shadow Chancellor and a Rothschild, he who changes his mind on policy over dinner dates, he who seeks not to challenge business as much as see it untie its regulation under his watch, he who mysteriously pays off fat mortgages, and he who has become the most important member of the Labour party without ever having been elected to do so? Is he really the face of the Labour party?

The God of Freud and the Jewish Homeland

I re-visited the Freud museum in South Hampstead today, and was also lucky enough to find a copy of the Guardian on the tube, so my post marries the two events. I was very interested in the Middle East peace/Israel-Palestine resumption stories, but I also had my head half stuck in a book closer to the subject of the day: Dr. Sigmund.

It is now commonplace in new atheist literature to hold Freud up as a cohort to the idea that religion is little more than a childish phase. And I suppose this is understandable since Freud’s early essay called The Future of Illusion calls religion just that: an illusion. But his position did take a huge modification in his later, maturer years.

Sam Harris, interestingly enough, in his book The End of Faith, rejected Freud as a psychoanalyst informed by Harris’ own neuroscientific background, but held in esteem Freud’s riposte on the notion of God being akin to a missing Father. What Harris did forget to mention was that it was neuroscience that informed Freud’s psychoanalytic base, and in fact, further, it was the shortfall of this discipline regarding the notion of hysteria that Freud was forced to drop neuroscience, or in other words, neuroscience could not go far enough to recognise the genesis of the hysterical mind.

Indeed Freud promoted a number of different stylistic attitudes toward the question of God, and these attitudes can be divided into two collectives, which I will now discuss. Freud’s view that the historical arrival of monotheism (which he attributes to Moses’ being an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, his being originally Hebrew. As such, in a letter he told Arnold Zweig “Moses created the Jews” and, in his last substantial book Moses and Monotheism stated that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses”) meant that man’s relation to God “could recover the intimacy and intensity of the child’s relation to his father.” But at this stage, this reunion of man and a monotheistic God signified nothing but a childish illusion. As Ana-Maria Rizzuto pointed out in her excellent book Why Did Freud Reject God: A Psychoanalytic Interpretation from as early as his youth, Freud viewed God as a mere childhood creation, an element of the mental space in which to direct wishes (prompting his Father Jakob to present his son with a copy of the Philippson Bible, complete with a pleading dedication for Sigmund to part with his youthful scepticism). Freud suspected, in some later reflections of his case study on Sergei Pankejeff (better known as Wolf Man), that young people lose their religious beliefs as soon as their father’s authority breaks down”. In other words, that it was a sign of maturity to escape the domain of God (in direct contradiction to his Father’s message, written inside the bible gift previously mentioned, to “return to [God] in maturity”). Freud held this view until 1935 when a change became apparent in his manner. In private correspondence Freud started to acknowledge the intellectual qualities of God on thought and enquiry, after all the speculation of an absent property had immense benefits for abstract contemplation. Freud’s understanding of the concept of God changed from illusion to promoting sapience. Rather than bogging one down with idle introspection, the concept permitted investigation.

Two days into writing his last book on Moses, three secretaries visited Freud from the Royal Society who offered him the chance to sign the society’s charter book. A unique occasion, too, since it was only the king, an honorary member of the society, who had the book brought to him to sign, but on account of Freud being ill, an exception was made. As of then it was writ large that Freud joined the top names in scientific history, Darwin, Newton etc. So it was hardly surprising that Freud had felt some reservations about his present study, a speculative work that was supported only by limited evidence. In fact, its first reviewers were rather scathing about it. Martin Buber, for example, the Jewish theologian poured scorn on it as being “regrettable” and “groundless”. But many commentators with the privilege of hindsight, one being Mark Edmundson in his stimulating book The Death of Sigmund Freud, received the book as being “better disposed toward faith than any other of Freud’s prior work.” He elaborates “[t]he pleasures of sight, Freud insists, are intense, nearly instinctive pleasures … [and] to renounce the visible in the interest of the unseen is an enormously difficult human task … less intense, but more valuable in the long run”. That is to say, more intellectually valuable in the sense that the privileging of sensory perception was minimised in order to discern the abstract idea. For Freud, Moses probably struggled with the effort to believe in an invisible God when there were multitudinous amounts of idolatry religions at his beck and call. And this is why Freud held Moses in such high esteem, since his adherence to monotheism mirrors the correct process of human consciousness in general, from an infantile worship of the present thing, to the introspective rigour of mental labour (indicative of monotheism).

As we can see, Freud considered God for its mental utility function, and its timing was also interesting; just after Freud was forced to leave Vienna and antisemitism became a governmental policy of the Nazis. It was at this backfooting for the Jews that Freud became intimate with Egyptology. But what of Freud’s rather more intimate relationship with the Jewish homeland, via one of his most distinguished students.

I wonder if all the trouble regarding Palestine and Israel – which Obama may well be on the way to mending, and given his timing, when the Arab world is having its own doubts about Iran – would’ve occurred had Princess Marie Bonaparte achieved her original plans for European Jews circa 1945. Great granddaughter of Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, she was on speaking terms with Sigmund Freud, who referred to her as “our Princess”. She provided economic support for Freud to leave occupied territory and emigrate to England But although her philanthropy stopped there, her original plan was to purchase a section of southern California to be used as a Jewish homeland. All well and good, but imagine what would happen, if a few belligerent émigrés had decided that the original population of southern California were to be perceived as nothing more than second-class citizens at best, bullet fodder at worst. The course of history would have changed rapidly, and the last 60 years would’ve been a lot different.

The New Conservatives: More of the same

Following the callousness with which Phillip Hammond dealt the issue of interns not so long ago when saying;

“I would regard it as an abuse of taxpayer funding to pay for something that is available for nothing and which other members are obtaining for nothing […] I therefore have no intention of changing my present arrangements.”

Conservatives in Nottingham South have at least let interns down gently. Their latest advert is as follows;

21375/Volunteer Political Intern, for Dr Rowena Holland, PPC for Nottingham South
Salary: We regret that we cannot offer any salary or travel expenses.
Posted on 25 August 09, closes on 02 October 09

The difference is in the language. Where Hammond bemoaned even the mere thought of doing something different from his colleagues and adversaries that might make internships open to more than just those who can afford to spend up to 9 months unpaid, Dr Rowena Holland at least had the decency to forge an apology.

Actually, this kind of characterises the sea change in the Conservative party rather nicely; new (compassionate conservative) face, regrets, hugs etc, though, more of the same underneath.