Sunday, 22 August 2010

Who would be a student now?

Who would want to be a student in this day and age? Seems like you can get five A* grades and still not get into your place at Bogmouth University. Even if you do, you'll come out the other side with thousands of pounds of debt, competing for jobs with hundreds of thousands of other graduates because getting a degree is now about as special as wearing a T-shirt.

OK, that's probably an unfair assessment. I was lucky enough to go to university in mid-90s - before the introduction of tuition fees (which I don't necessarily disagree with, by the way) - when it was still possible to pretty much get into the university of your choice as long as you got the requisite grades. My university of choice - Manchester - wanted three Bs or equivalent to get onto the Philosophy & Politics course. Thankfully, I met this requirement and I was in. Great times. Not sure about now though. You probably need eight A* grades, an enormous bag of cash and an endorsement letter from the Pope to get through the door. Even then, over-subscription means there's a chance you still won't get a place this year.

That said, if you can live with the expense and actually get on a course, it's without doubt one of the best times of your life. While I don't envy the students who, on top of annual accusations of A Levels getting easier, have to contend with incredible competition for places and then for a job afterwards, already up to their eyes in debt, I do envy the amazing three years they can have in the meantime. I graduated in 1996 and have pretty much been in full-time employment ever since. I know which I prefer.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Thoughts on the "Ground Zero mosque"

The most frightening thing about this ridiculous "Ground Zero mosque" furore is how the opponents of it are so casually disregarding the very features of their country that - apparently - make them so proud to be American. The USA is a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and religions with a constitution that ensures the government cannot favour any one group over another. This is one of the undoubted strengths of the union and one of many reasons for its continued success at incorporating all peoples (not perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly better than most nations manage).

Newt Gingrich, the Republican former presidential candidate and speaker of the House of Representatives, drew a crass analogy:  "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Centre". It's difficult to imagine what sort of "site" he could be thinking the Japanese could put there but, presumably, there are no indicators of Japan or Japanese culture allowed in Hawaii out of respect for the attacks of December 1941? No sushi restaurants, no Playstations, no Sony televisions allowed on or near the islands as an act of never-ending reverence.

Even worse comes from Elliott Maynard, Republican candidate for Congress in West Virginia: "Ground Zero is hallowed ground to Americans. Do you think the Muslims would allow a Jewish temple or a Christian church to be built in Mecca?" he asks, missing the point completely. No, Elliott, they wouldn't. But then - and this is the crucial bit that you should really be focusing on, instead of ignorantly perpetuating your numb-skulled ignorance - that is what makes the USA a vastly superior country to a hideous theocracy like Saudi Arabia. Do you understand? The USA is a sophisticated democracy and Saudi Arabia is a theocratic authoritarian state. By even drawing a parallel between the two you are besmirching the very country that you profess to love.

It's not just Republicans whipping up this nonsense (although, of course, they do dominate the numbers - none more so than Fuckwit-in-Chief Sarah Palin who continues to chip in on the subject much like a parrot picks up pieces of dialogue and spits them out randomly). Democrat Harry Reid's office released a statement saying that he respects freedom of religion, but "thinks the mosque should be built someplace else". Right. Well, as long as you're consistent in your philosophy.

So the arguments just frothed and frothed and frothed until President Obama himself had to get involved in what should be, really, a planning dispute particular to residents of lower Manhattan. Obama, rightly, defended their right on constitutional terms. This has been taken as "endorsement" in many quarters, but it is no such thing - he is merely upholding their right and reiterating the facts. But then, nearly 1 in 5 Americans apparently believe that Barack Obama himself is a Muslim.

Now I'm no friend of Islam and have no interest in granting them any special privileges. Like any religion, it does not command my interest, admiration or respect. But US citizens who are Muslim clearly have the same rights and entitlements as those of any other faith (or those of no faith). Muslims died in the attacks of 9/11 too. By isolating this issue, taking it out of context and blowing it out of all proportion the message is being given that all Muslims are terrorists or sympathetic to terrorists. Which is exactly what Osama Bin Laden and company seek: they want all Muslims worldwide to believe that there is a religious war being waged against them all. The rage of opponents of the "Ground Zero mosque" (neither a mosque, nor located at Ground Zero by my understanding) is only serving to help this aim.

Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and all the rest of you, take a bow. You are doing the work of Bin Laden. Well done.

Plans that either come to naught, or half a page of scribbled lines

Don't you just hate it when three months piss by and you can't even account for them? I must have been doing something in that time. In fact I know that I was. But blogging wasn't one of them.