Monday, February 21, 2005

Thought for today

Extract from Paul Foot's The Vote in today's Guardian:
"The socialist who joins nothing and links with nobody is the most useless of all. "

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Slavery in Niger

Despite being prohibited under the 1999 Constitution and the Penal Code, many people remain in various forms of slavery. People are born into slavery, and are forced to work without pay for their so-called masters throughout their lives, primarily herding cattle, working on farmland or as domestic servants. Born into slavery, children become the property of their masters and can be passed from one slave owner to another as gifts or as part of a dowry. Girls are forced to start work as domestic servants at a very young age and are at the continual beck and call of their masters. Girls may be sexually abused by men in the household or forced to marry at a young age.

The true scale of slavery became clear last year, after Timidria carried out extensive research, supported by Anti-Slavery International. In this, the first national survey on slavery, over 11,000 people were interviewed, most of whom were identified as slaves. The research establishes that a minimum of 43,000 people are in slavery across the country.
From: Anti-Slavery


Readers looking for examples of the downside of inflated self-esteem should examine the career of Robert Kilroy-Silk. Eclectech treat the launch of his new right-wing, populist party with the respect and seriousness it deserves. See also their tribute to Mr Tangerine Man.

Via: Europhobia

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Against high self-esteem

After all these years, I'm sorry to say, my recommendation is this: Forget about self-esteem and concentrate more on self-control and self-discipline.
So concludes psychologist Roy F Baumeister in an article for the LA Times. He reports on a major literature review that problematises the current popular and policy preoccupation with the importance of high self-esteem. Longer extract:

Five years ago, the American Psychological Society commissioned me and several other experts to wade with an open mind through the enormous amount of published research on the subject and to assess the benefits of high self-esteem.

Here are some of our disappointing findings. High self- esteem in schoolchildren does not produce better grades. (Actually, kids with high self-esteem do have slightly better grades in most studies, but that's because getting good grades leads to higher self-esteem, not the other way around.) In fact, according to a study by Donald Forsyth at Virginia Commonwealth University, college students with mediocre grades who got regular self-esteem strokes from their professors ended up doing worse on final exams than students who were told to suck it up and try harder.

Self-esteem doesn't make adults perform better at their jobs either. Sure, people with high self-esteem rate their own performance better — even declaring themselves smarter and more attractive than their low self-esteem peers — but neither objective tests nor impartial raters can detect any difference in the quality of work.

Likewise, people with high self-esteem think they make better impressions, have stronger friendships and have better romantic lives than other people, but the data don't support their self-flattering views. If anything, people who love themselves too much sometimes annoy other people by their defensive or know-it-all attitudes. Self-esteem doesn't predict who will make a good leader, and some work (including that of psychologist Robert Hogan writing in the Harvard Business Review) has found humility rather than self-esteem to be a key trait of successful leaders.

It was widely believed that low self-esteem could be a cause of violence, but in reality violent individuals, groups and nations think very well of themselves. They turn violent toward others who fail to give them the inflated respect they think they deserve. Nor does high self-esteem deter people from becoming bullies, according to most of the studies that have been done; it is simply untrue that beneath the surface of every obnoxious bully is an unhappy, self-hating child in need of sympathy and praise.

High self-esteem doesn't prevent youngsters from cheating or stealing or experimenting with drugs and sex. (If anything, kids with high self-esteem may be more willing to try these things at a young age.)

There were a few areas where higher self-esteem seemed to bring some benefits. For instance, people with high self- esteem are generally happier and less depressed than others, though we can't quite prove that high self-esteem prevents depression or causes happiness. Young women with high self- esteem seem less susceptible to eating disorders. In some studies (though not all), people with high self-esteem bounce back from misfortune and trauma faster than others.

High self-esteem also promotes initiative. People who have it are more likely to speak up in a group, persist in the face of failure, resist other people's advice or pressure and strike up conversations with strangers. Of course, initiative can cut both ways: One study on bullying found that self-esteem was high among the bullies and among the people who intervened to resist them. Low self-esteem marked the victims of bullying.

In short, despite the enthusiastic embrace of self-esteem, we found that it conferred only two benefits. It feels good and it supports initiative. Those are nice, but they are far less than we had once hoped for, and it is very questionable whether they justify the effort and expense that schools, parents and therapists have put into raising self-esteem.
Via: Kieran Healy

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The EU and immigration

Can't say I share all its underlying assumptions but there is a lively post on the EU and immigration at Europhobia.

Migration matters more

The Guardian today:
The government is to close the door on low-skilled migrants from the developing world who come to Britain legally under existing work permit schemes, the home secretary, Charles Clarke, disclosed yesterday.

The measure is part of Labour's five-year plan for immigration and asylum, which includes a 'points system' for new migrants that critics fear will lead to a 'two-tier guestworker' labour force.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Migration matters

Dead Men Left is rightly angry about the familiar way in which pre-election debate on migration in Britain is shaping up. The main parties have legitimated the notion that the public has lost faith with the current legal framework and are in a competition as to who would be 'tougher' or more efficient at controlling immigration. Some of the evidence DML cites to rebut the assumptions underpinning this moral panic will be familiar to readers of Importance. Two new nuggets are worth checking: firstly a 2004 Citizens Advice Bureau Report on exploitation of migrant workers and secondly this from The Guardian highlighting mistreatment of foreign nurses in the UK.

Why does it appear that only left-leaning blogs are concerned about the situation of migrant workers? Surely for the libertarians this should be a struggle for personal liberty and free markets against the overbearing state? Why don't the liberals see that this as being about the rights of others to share in the benefits of Western democracy? I suspect Dead Men Left would say I was naive to even ask these questions.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bob Marley

Today is the sixtieth aniversary of Bob Marley's birth. There is extensive written and audio material available via the BBC website. I'd particularly recommend this programme (originally broadcast in 2003) in which Benjamin Zephaniah pays tribute to Marley.

Shooting people is fun

Apparently, according to Lt. Gen. James Mattis, a career US infantry officer who is now in charge of developing better ways to train and equip Marines.

"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight. You know, it's a hell of a hoot. ... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you, I like brawling."

He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Thanks: Lenin's Tomb

Top 10 of shame

What is a progressive?

Afronetizen at personal democracy answers:

I finally figured it out:

A progressive is a white liberal with a broadband connection.

I feel like such an idiot. Until now, I had thought it was a person committed to true social and economic justice and equal opportunity for all.

See what happens when you think too hard -- you can't see what's right in front of you!

Imperialism revival (4)

Following my earlier posts here, here, and here questioning Gordon Brown's assertion that Britain should be proud of its colonial past, The Guardian yesterday reported on the release of previously secret government documents discussing army torture of suspected Mau Mau rebels in Kenya in the 1950s. A confidential letter from General George Erskine to the War Office, acknowledged that prisoners had been "beaten to extract information".

There is no doubt that in the early days ... there was a great deal of indiscriminate shooting by army and police. I am quite certain prisoners were beaten to extract information. It is a short step from beating to torture and I'm now sure ... that torture was a feature of many police posts.
Also in yesterday's The Guardian, there is a review of David Anderson's and Caroline Elkins' books on the British in Kenya in the 1950s (see previous posts). Extract:

One officer quoted by Anderson gives a taste of the impunity - and the hatred. Interviewing three enemy suspects he says: 'One of them, a tall coal-black bastard, kept grinning at me, real insolent. I slapped him hard, but he kept on grinning at me, so I kicked him in the balls as hard as I could ... When he finally got up on his feet he grinned at me again and I snapped. I really did. I stuck my revolver right in his grinning mouth ... And I pulled the trigger. His brains went all over the side of the police station. The other two (suspects) were standing there looking blank ... so I shot them both ... when the sub-inspector drove up, I told him the (suspects) tried to escape. He didn't believe me but all he said was "bury them and see the wall is cleaned up".'

No British official, military or civilian, has ever been investigated or prosecuted for what happened in the suppression of Mau Mau.
Also of interest is this transcript of a talk by Marxist historian Neil Davidson discussing 'Scotish Imperialism and National Identity'. Extract 1:

When I first suggested that there might a connection between the Scottish nation and the British Empire, four years ago in The Origins of Scottish Nationhood, the suggestion was met with outrage in some quarters of the left, on two main grounds. One was that the Scots had no special role in the British Empire and that, if we had, it was because the English made us do it: in other words, the `we were only obeying orders' defence, which, apart from being a lie, is not particularly flattering to the Scots. However, since my book appeared, two weighty tomes have been published - Michael Fry's The Scottish Empire and Tom Devine's Scotland's Empire - which, whatever else you might want to say about them, set out the facts fairly clearly. Far from being in any sense a victim of imperialism, Scotland was, as an integral part of the British state, a major component of one. Nor was it a `junior partner' - a thesis whose main function is to evade Scottish responsibility for the nature of the British Empire.
Extract 2:

What does this history mean for socialists in Scotland today? The attitudes fostered by our imperial role survive even though the Empire itself is largely - and thankfully - history. But the militarism, racism and xenophobia that so disfigure Scottish society - overlaid and strengthened by our very own traditions of Protestant bigotry - are not superficial aspects which can be discarded by the establishment of border posts along the Tweed. They are part, you might say, of our 'ethnicity'. I am not arguing that Scotland should not secede from England, incidentally - that is a decision which the Scots have every right to make if they wish - simply that it is complacency of the highest order to imagine that secession alone, without a deeper transformation of values, will remove the darker side of our national psyche: in a nation formed by Empire it could scarcely be otherwise. Against this, we have a reservoir of other traditions, radical and socialist traditions, upon which to draw; but we will have to draw on them, because we can be sure that the imperial legacy will not be expunged without our conscious intervention.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Guerrilla knitters

I am obviously too stuck in the old politics to understand fully how knitting can be a form of activism. Thanks to near near future, however, I have learnt about Guerrilla knitters.

"By knitting you are resisting capitalism and consumerism. You are not responding to the fashion industry; you are making your own decisions."

Knitting in public seems "almost as transgressive as breastfeeding in public 20 years ago."

Members of Cast Off hold a mass knit on the London underground.

Naked woman on book case

The Paris Review have just put 300 author interviews from the past 50 years on the web. Their archive is full of high-brow gems but I'll lower the tone by quoting from a 1955 exchange with James Thurber.

INTERVIEWER: You say that your drawings often don’t come out the way you intended?

THURBER: Well, once I did a drawing for The New Yorker of a naked woman on all fours up on top of a bookcase–a big bookcase. She’s up there near the ceiling, and in the room are her husband and two other women. The husband is saying to one of the women, obviously a guest, “This is the present Mrs. Harris. That’s my first wife up there.” Well, when I did the cartoon originally I meant the naked woman to be at the top of a flight of stairs, but I lost the sense of perspective and instead of getting in the stairs when I drew my line down, there she was stuck up there, naked, on a bookcase. Incidentally, that cartoon really threw The New Yorker editor, Harold Ross. He approached any humorous piece of writing, or more particularly a drawing, not only grimly but realistically. He called me on the phone and asked if the woman up on the bookcase was supposed to be alive, stuffed, or dead. I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll let you know in a couple of hours.” After a while I called him back and told him I’d just talked to my taxidermist, who said you can’t stuff a woman, that my doctor had told me a dead woman couldn’t support herself on all fours. “So, Ross,” I said, “she must be alive.” “Well then,” he said, “what’s she doing up there naked in the home of her husband’s second wife?” I told him he had me there.