Thursday, January 24, 2008

Bias against whites in British arts funding

By Jeremy Clarkson

Here in Chipping Norton, there is a picture-perfect little theatre. It's exactly the same as a London theatre, with a balcony and a bar, only it's much, much smaller. You really do feel, as you perch on your primary-school chair, gazing on the Punch and Judy stage, that you are locked in a Cotswold-stone dolls' house. It's an enchanting place and everyone round these parts is very proud of it. So consequently everyone is very cross that the Arts Council recently announced it would no longer be supplying 40,000 pounds a year to help fund it.

And Chipping Norton is not alone. Even though the Arts Council has just received a 50m income boost from the government, it has sent letters to 194 mostly provincial playhouses, galleries and so on, saying they no longer fit with its "agenda". "Hmmm," I wondered, "and what might this agenda be?" So I checked, and it seems that to get funding these days what you've got to be is black or mad or preferably both.

For instance, the Arts Council has recognised that there are very few people from ethnic minorities in senior positions in the arts, but instead of thinking: "Aha. This shows that very few black or Asian people are interested, so let's concentrate on the white middle classes", it has now become involved with several schemes to get inner-city kids out of their big training shoes and into an Othello suit.

There's more. The Arts Council has never offered to translate my books into Urdu. Or Jilly Cooper's. But it "remains committed" to spending a fortune supporting ethnic-minority writers. Indeed, it claims to have six priorities in place at the moment. And of course "celebrating diversity" is one of them. Not at all surprisingly, "celebrating Mrs Thatcher" isn't one of the others.

The council spends nearly half a billion pounds a year and, so far as I can tell, in 2007 most of that was given to Benjamin Zephaniah and others in exchange for some ditties about how awful the slave trade was and how everyone in Britain ought to commit suicide.

But wait. What's this? It seems there was some money left over to send a bunch of kids from Calderdale to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is a field full of what look like big bronze sheep droppings. It's not my cup of tea but no matter - the droppings were sculpted by Henry Moore, so that sounds fine. Sadly no. Because afterwards the kids were taught about rap music and how to graffiti a wall. That has absolutely nothing to do with the arts at all. It'd be like teaching kung fu at a flower-arranging class.

Here on the Chipping Norton arts scene things are rather different. Plans for 2008 include a play about space travel, devised by Niki McCretton, who I'm afraid is white. Then there's a tribute to Abba, who were a very popular Swedish pop group featuring no disabled Bangladeshis, and a talk by Arabella Weir, who is the daughter of a notable diplomat.

There are films too. But none, so far as I can see, is Brick Lane or that tosh from Al Gore. And then of course there's the Christmas pantomime. Much loved by Douglas Hurd, who never misses it, and 7,000 children, all called Henry and Araminta, it's a professional show featuring traditional storylines at this Christian time of year. You can see immediately why none of this fits in with the Arts Council's "agenda". And I'm afraid the concert planned for next Saturday doesn't work either. Yes, the pianist, Helene Tysman, is foreign, which is good, but I'm afraid she's only French. And that's hopeless because they had an empire too, the bastards.

What the management should be doing to maintain its grip on the Arts Council's funding is hosting a celebration of haiku poetry, in silence, by the Al Gore polar-bear workers' collective. Of course nobody would come, but hey - serving the needs of the area? Since when did that ever matter?

It does, and that's why I'd like to conclude with some words of encouragement for the management of Chipping Norton theatre and the other organisations around the country that don't fit in with the Arts Council's taste. It is extremely likely that you will be better off without the council's 40 grand a year. Because tied up in this rather small chalice is a ton of poisonous red tape demarcating what you can do, what you can say and how many ramps have to be fitted at each urinal. You can wave goodbye to all that BBC-regional-news-tick-the-ethnic-boxes nonsense when you replace the lunatics at the Arts Council with a set of different benefactors.

I know this because just last week I spent some time with some chap from a notable charity. Each year, it needs 4million pounds to stay afloat, and none comes from the government. "Trust me," he said. "We don't want even 4p of their money. It's always more trouble than it's worth."

Or you can look at the Millennium Dome. When it was run by the government the dome was full of faith zones and Cherie Blair, celebrating diversity. And it was a disaster. Now it's in private hands it's full of Led Zeppelin and recently became recognised as the most popular concert venue in the world.


Ambivalence about science or abuse of science?

Scientists at one of Rome's most prestigious universities, La Sapienza, are protesting against a planned visit by Pope Benedict XVI this Thursday. The Pope is due officially to open the university's academic year, but some of the professors of science at the university are not happy. In a letter to the university's rector, 67 lecturers and professors said it would be `incongruous' for the Pope to visit given his earlier comments on Galileo; while he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope said that the Catholic Church's trial of the great Italian astronomer was `reasonable and just'. So, university staff want to block a visit by a religious leader in the name of defending scientific truth and integrity.

This is a striking story: today, it frequently seems as if scientific authority is replacing religious and moral authority, and in the process being transformed into a dogma. At first sight, it appears that science has the last word on all the important questions of our time. Science is no longer confined to the laboratory. Parents are advised to adopt this or that child-rearing technique on the grounds that `the research' has shown what is best for kids. Scientific studies are frequently used to instruct people on how to conduct their relationships and family life, and on what food they should eat, how much alcohol they should drink, how frequently they can expose their skin to the sun, and even how they should have sex. Virtually every aspect of human life is discussed in scientific terms, and justified with reference to a piece of research or by appealing to the judgment of experts.

Of course, as in the past, science still invites criticism and scepticism. Indeed, its authority is continually scrutinised and subjected to a deeply moralistic anti-scientific critique. Scientific experimentation and innovation - for example, in the areas of stem cell research, cloning and genetic modification - are stigmatised as `immoral' and `dangerous'. Moreover, many wonder if there are hidden agendas or interests behind scientific studies, especially those that are used to justify moral or political campaigns. Many people understand that last year's scientific advice is often contradicted by new findings further down the line. Others are anxious about the rapid pace of scientific advance: they worry about the potential for destruction that might be unleashed by developments in genetic manipulation or nanotechnology.

Many greens blame science and technology for contributing to environmental degradation and to global warming. Indeed, one of the puzzling features of our time is this: the relentless expansion of the authority of science is paralleled by a sense of distrust about science. Anyone old enough to recall the public's enthusiasm for scientific breakthroughs in the 1950s and 60s will be struck by the more begrudging and even fearful acceptance of science today. The attitude of Western society towards science is intensely contradictory. In the absence of political vision and direction, society continually hides behind scientific authority - but at the same time it does not quite believe that science has the answers, and it worries about the potential rotten fruits of scientific discovery.

Yet whatever misgivings people have about science, its authority is unrivalled in the current period. The formidable influence of scientific authority can be seen in the way that environmentalists now rely on science to back up their arguments. Not long ago, in the 1970s and 80s, leading environmentalists insisted that science was undemocratic, that it was responsible for many of the problems facing the planet. Now, in public at least, their hostility towards science has given way to their embrace and endorsement of science.

Today, the environmental lobby depends on the legitimation provided by scientific evidence and expertise. In their public performances, environmentalists frequently use the science in a dogmatic fashion. `The scientists have spoken', says one British-based campaign group, in an updated version of the religious phrase: `This is the Word of the Lord.' `This is what the science says we must do', many greens claim, before adding that the debate about global warming is `finished'. This week, David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, caused a stink by criticising extreme green `Luddites' who are `hurting' the environmentalist cause. Yet when science is politicised, as it has been under the likes of King, who once claimed that `the science shows' that global warming is a bigger threat than terrorism, then it can quite quickly and inexorably be converted into dogma, superstition and prejudice (1). It is the broader politicisation of science that nurtures today's dogmatic green outlook.

Today, religion and political ideologies no longer inspire significant sections of the public. Politicians find it difficult to justify their work and outlook in the vocabulary of morality. In the Anglo-American world, officials now promote policies on the grounds that they are `evidence based' rather than because they are `right' or `good'. In policymaking circles, the language of `right' and `wrong' has been displaced by the phrase: `The research shows.'

Moral judgments are often edged out even from the most sensitive areas of life. For example, experts use the language of medicine rather than morality to tell young teenagers that having sex is not so much `bad' as bad for their emotional health. So pervasive is the crisis of belief and morality that even religious institutions are affected by it. Fundamentalists no longer simply rely on Biblical texts to affirm their belief in the Creation; today, the invention of `creation science' by Christian fundamentalists in the US is symptomatic of the trend to supplement traditional belief with scientific authority.

Likewise, the anti-abortion movement no longer restricts itself to morally denouncing a medical procedure which they consider to be evil. Now they increasingly rely on scientific and technical expertise to advance their cause. They argue that having an abortion is bad for a woman's health and is likely to cause post-abortion trauma. The question `when does life begin?' was once a moral issue, bound up in competing views of morality, rights and human consciousness. Today anti-abortion activists appeal to medical research and use a narrowly scientific definition of `when life begins': they argue that because `the evidence' shows that fetuses can survive at 24 weeks, then this demonstrates the unquestionable beginning to life (2).

Despite its formidable intellectual powers, science can only provide a provisional solution to the contemporary crisis of belief. Historically, science emerged through a struggle with religious dogma. A belief in the power of science to discover how the world works should not be taken to mean that science itself is a belief. On the contrary, science depends on an open-ended orientation towards experimentation and the testing of ideas. Indeed, science is an inherently sceptical enterprise, since it respects no authority other than evidence. As Thomas Henry Huxley once declared: `The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority as such.' `[S]cepticism is the highest of duties', said Huxley; `blind faith the unpardonable sin'. That is why Britain's oldest and most respectable scientific institution, the Royal Society, was founded on the motto: `On the word of no one.' The message conveyed in this motto is clear: knowledge about the material world should be based on evidence rather than authority.

The critical spirit embodied in that motto is frequently violated today by the growing tendency to treat science as a belief that provides an unquestionable account of the Truth. Indeed, it is striking that the Royal Society recently dropped the phrase `On the word of no one' from its website, while its former president, Lord May, prefers to use the motto `Respect the facts' these days (see The Royal Society's motto-morphosis, by Ben Pile and Stuart Blackman). Many religious leaders, politicians and environmentalists have little interest in engaging in the voyage of discovery through scientific experimentation. Instead they often appear to be in the business of politicising science, or more accurately, moralising it. For example, Al Gore has claimed that scientific evidence offers (inconvenient) Truths.

Such science has more in common with the art of divination than the process of experimentation. That is why science is said to have a fixed and unyielding, and thus unquestionable, quality. Frequently, Gore and others will prefix the term science with the definite article, `the'. So Sir David Read, vice-president of the Royal Society, recently said: `The science very clearly points towards the need for us all - nations, businesses and individuals - to do as much as possible, as soon as possible, to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.' Unlike `science', this new term - `The Science' - is a deeply moralised and politicised category. Today, those who claim to wield the authority of The Science are really demanding unquestioning submission.

The slippage between a scientific fact and moral exhortation is accomplished with remarkable ease in a world where people lack the confidence to speak in the language of right and wrong. But turning science into an arbiter of policy and behaviour only serves to confuse matters. Science can provide facts about the way the world works, but it cannot say very much about what it all means and what we should do about it. Yes, the search for truth requires scientific experimentation and the discovery of new facts; but it also demands answers about the meaning of those facts, and those answers can only be clarified through moral, philosophical investigation and debate.

If science is turned into a moralising project, its ability to develop human knowledge will be compromised. It will also distract people from developing a properly moral understanding of the problems that face humanity in the twenty-first century. Those who insist on treating science as a new form of revealed truth should remember Pascal's words: `We know the truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.'


Democrat race stung by political correctness

A view from Australia

HILAROUSLY, the frontrunners for the US Democrats presidential candidacy - Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - are now enmeshed in a web of political correctness spun by their party's reliance on race and gender politics for much of its popular appeal. While gender and race have been overlooked by countries such as India, Pakistan and Israel [and Britain, and Argentina, and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh] to deliver democratically-elected women leaders, the US Democrats, like the Australian Labor Party, is still insistent that gender matters. The problem for the Democrats now lies in determining whether female sexual identity trumps Afro-American identity.

Few Americans would have any argument about Hillary Rodham Clinton's sexual identity. It has been explored in minute detail since husband Bill was revealed to have either seduced or been seduced by White House intern Monica Lewinsky, though he had a lot of difficulty finding a definition of the particular sexual act they enjoyed in his office.

Interestingly, few feminists spoke out against the exploitation of a young woman by a man who, clearly, was both her employer and also possibly the most powerful individual on the globe at the time. If any other person but a Democratic president had been caught in such a situation, the sisterhood would still be screaming "Exploitation!"

But Bill, yet another politician who has enjoyed the beguiling charm and company of the New York Post's Australian-born Editor-in-Chief Col Allan, albeit around some of the world's best golf courses rather than in topless-bottomless nightclubs as did now Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, was never the target of the Meredith Burgmann's of the world [i.e. was not ridiculed as a sexist] -- despite his reputation as a difficult dog to keep on the porch. It's unlikely he was given a pass because he was too easy a target. He was never a target because he paid lip service to all the feminist dogma they could serve up -- in fact, all the remotely Left-of-centre dogma anyone wished endorsed.

The problem for Obama's supporters now is that Bill Clinton was also endorsed by every black group in the US, and was frequently admiringly referred to as "the first black US president" -- so strongly did he identify with the black leadership, particularly the black Christian leadership, despite his penchant for wandering from the straight and narrow.

As gender and race politics are now so 1960s, it is only the un-hippest of candidates who would make any reference to them, and Hillary Clinton and Obama are stumbling over themselves to pointedly explain to their audiences that they are actually not courting the female vote (Clinton) or the black vote (Obama) but are candidates for all Democrats. This, like most Democrat policies, is another case of fine in theory, ludicrous in practice, and is just not working.

Not only did Hillary manage to make monkeys out of the pollsters by coming from behind in New Hampshire to out poll Obama, all the exit polls showed it was the women's vote which carried the day. Similarly, all the speculation about the votes in the Southern states centres on Obama's ability to woo black voters from the Clinton camp. Not that it is that simple. Questions have been asked about how "black" Obama actually is, as "black" is not just a colour in the race game, but also code for being a descendant of the Africans sold into slavery by members of warring tribes or Arab dealers on the Dark Continent.

Obama, the son of a black Kenyan and a white American, is not considered to meet the test to qualify as an authentic "black" heir to the African-American experience by some of those who have most fiercely been demanding reparations for the slavery their forebears suffered. Not that any of them are suggesting they will move back to those areas of Africa their antecedents came from, nor that the descendants of those who villainously sold their ancestors into slavery should be responsible for coughing up any compensation now.

Obama has also run into a few problems with the fact that it is indisputable that he was described as a Muslim when he attended school in Indonesia when his mother lived there with her second husband, and that the young Obama is also remembered as attending the local mosque with his step-father. Now a member of a Christian congregation, he would be regarded as an apostate by strict Muslims, but this is an issue that no religious leaders are overly keen on pursuing at this stage in his candidacy.

Nor is he enthusiastic about talking-up his Kenyan heritage, given the state of the tribal war that is currently raging in his ancestral land and the fact that many Kenyans seem to be of the belief that, should Obama actually become president of the US, all Kenyans will be entitled to US citizenship and the benefits that would flow from that status.

All of which makes the race for the Republican nomination fairly clear cut at this stage, with war hero and former Vietnam prisoner-of-war John McCain looking good for the nomination. He may not be a woman, he may not be black, but he has more experience than either Democrat and he isn't mired in idiotic political correctness.


Bumper-sticker righteousness

A cheap claim of virtue and wisdom

I HAVE this visceral dislike of bumper-sticker moralisers. These are people who go out of their way to advertise what they take to be their own exalted moral sensibilities, but do so at no cost to themselves and without the messy business of having to weigh costs and benefits or to choose between stark alternatives where none is particularly pleasant or easy. It's all form and no substance for these people, and there's no shortage of them around.

Take those who plaster "Save the Whales" stickers on the back of their cars but miss the irony that it's an upmarket Toyota to which they're attaching the thing. Saving the whales is great in principle, but not if it involves forgoing an expensive new Lexus. Far better to bring a lawsuit that has no chance of being enforced.

Or what about many of those who announce that we should "Save Darfur"? Nowhere do they tell us how this is supposed to be accomplished. Through the UN, perhaps? But that organisation is famously hostage to the vetoes of the five Security Council members. It is an organisation that is congenitally unable to stop anything, be it slaughter in Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burma or ... well, you get the idea.

Indeed the only remotely plausible way to stop massacres in Darfur, and indeed just about anywhere else on the planet, is for the US to do something militarily, as it did in Bosnia and Serbia under Bill Clinton (when the Yanks bombed and bombed and bombed some more, all without the imprimatur of the UN, for the information of those who punctiliously assert that only UN-authorised actions are acceptable). But, of course, most people who put "Save Darfur" stickers on their cars would be horrified at the prospect of US military action.

What they mean is that saving Darfur, in the abstract, as a general notion, as some warm, fuzzy abstraction, is a jolly fine idea. So count them in. But if it were to require making unpalatable choices - killing people, propping up the least bad alternatives and so on - well, then stop right there. This is about feeling good about oneself and showing that one cares.

Signing or ratifying the Kyoto Protocol strikes me as comparable. For many it's all about feeling good about themselves, not about looking to see what works, what is possible, how to balance economic growth and people's adaptability against achieving worldwide reductions. My criticism is much deeper than the well-known fact that Al Gore's Tennessee mansion wolfs down 20 times more electricity than the average American household. Sure, hypocrisy is never all that hard to find. But the more important criticism has to do with whether Kyoto has the slightest prospect of being successful.

A study on the website American Thinker claims that in the seven years between the signing of Kyoto in 1997 and 2004, carbon emissions from countries that signed the treaty rose 21per cent, while among non-signers they rose 10per cent. And Australia, until recently a non-signatory, had a slower increase than Canada, a loud, vocal and proselytising signatory. If that's correct, then what exactly is the benefit of Kyoto? I mean that question seriously, not rhetorically. What good has come from Australia signing up to the thing? (I'm assuming we didn't do it in order to allow ourselves to pump out even more carbon with the other signatories.)

Has anyone else noticed that as soon as the Rudd Government ratified Kyoto and advertised its good intentions, all the heat (if you'll pardon the expression) went out of the issue. It's as though one has only somehow to signal one's on the side of the angels - or at least willing to talk the talk - and that's that. But even a moment's thought is enough to make it clear that whatever the extent of the global warming problem, it is most definitely that: global. And China and India have made their positions clear. (I would say they are defensible positions, too.) They want economic growth. They want to alleviate poverty. If that means 2C or 3C more by the year 2100, so be it.

And both those giant developing countries well know that the West became rich because of cheap energy. Now it's their turn. The gap between their view of what will amount to a fair sharing of the burden of cutting greenhouse gases and the view of the European Union, to say nothing of the US, is so wide, it takes someone wholly divorced from reality to see any prospect of the divide being bridged. As one well-known commentator remarked, "The Kyoto approach is dead and buried." The same person also pointed out the practical flaws in carbon emissions trading schemes.

If you are serious about cutting carbon dioxide emissions, you need to make them more expensive. So you can tax them or you can create a system to ration such emissions. Alas, rationing schemes not only discriminate against new entrants and provide rent-seeking opportunities to those operating the system, they don't really work. We don't set up a complicated alcohol or tobacco rationing system with tradable rights to drink or smoke. We tax these products. The EU carbon trading scheme hasn't worked and won't work. It's more of the form-over-substance charade.

You see, if you approached the problem in terms of taxing carbon dioxide, it would become too obvious just how high the costs would be of achieving a 70 per cent reduction (or even half of that). One can't help noticing that despite endless rock concerts, declarations and meetings of the great and the good, very little in practice has been done and global emissions continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the one obvious, clearly beneficial policy that we could adopt in Australia, namely to build nuclear power stations, dare not speak its name in polite Labor circles. This Government won't even sell uranium to India, even though nuclear power is the only remotely plausible way that enormous country will slow the increase of its emissions.

You see, it doesn't matter that India is a democracy, a huge and successful democracy. It hasn't signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, old boy. And rather than weigh the costs and benefits of what to do and then make a hard call, we're going with the bumper-sticker brigade on this one.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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