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Showing posts from 2011

R.I.P. Dobie Gray

Niall CrowleyWho’s in the ‘In Crowd’ these days?
The late US soul singer Dobie Gray provided the theme tune for uppity working-class kids in 1960s Britain.Dobie Gray, the US soul singer who provided the theme tune for a new generation of uppity British working-class youth in the 1960s, has died. Gray’s 1965 underground dance hit, ‘The “In” Crowd’, fitted like a bespoke Italian suit for the swanky and urbane kids who had even the upper classes chasing their shirt tails. Future-oriented and cosmopolitan, with little time for the outmoded conventions and deference that had choked the country for so long, they were the ‘in’ crowd.

My Spiked article on antibiotic use in agriculture

Time for an injection of common sense
Groups opposed to modern agriculture are using scare stories to try to have antibiotics banned on farms.

‘A world without effective antibiotics is a terrifying but real prospect. Now, the situation is so acute that the director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan, has warned of “a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated”... [O]ver-use of antibiotics in factory farming, especially at low doses over several days, is contributing to the huge threat of a world without effective cures for bacterial infections.’

So said Compassion in World Farming, launching a report last month with two other campaign groups, the Soil Association and Sustain. The report, Case Study of a Health Crisis is part of an ‘Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics’. But does factory farming really threaten human health?

The emergence of antibiotic resistance as a serious problem in human medicin…

My Review of Rob Lyons's book 'Panic on a Plate: How Society Developed an Eating Disorder'

Published by Culture Wars
Rob Lyons is speaking at Birmingham Salon on Tuesday 6 December. See for further details

‘Fish and chips are indigestible, expensive and unwholesome’. Eating them causes secondary poverty, which arises from the incompetent and immoral misapplication of household resources. There is a culinary ignorance, a failure to use cheap ingredients to their best advantage.

Is this the latest campaign by TV chef and moraliser Jamie Oliver? Perhaps it’s an analysis from a new government report on healthy eating? Or maybe it’s the findings of a think tank, desperately trying to understand our obsession with so called ‘junk food’. It’s actually my paraphrasing of John K Walton’s description of the debate about working-class eating habits in the late 1870s to early 1880s quoted in Rob Lyon’s new book. Something similar could easily be said today by any anti-obesity or ‘five a day’ campaigner.

The difference is that in the 1880s campaigners wer…

Salon member Niall Crowley in The Independent

"If a new generation of artists, designers and architects are going to create the products, the buildings and the infrastructure we need and deserve, they have to begin to think more critically about contemporary ideas, and challenge taboos and orthodoxies like environmentalism and sustainability. Only then can they throw off their self-imposed limitations, think big and finally stand on the shoulders of giants like Sir Henry Cole".'Make do and mend' is not the way for us all to get better stuff

Next Birmingham Salon Meeting

Are you what you eat? Is our obsessionwith what we eat healthy? Tuesday 6 December The Studio, Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP. 7.00pm until 8.30pm and in the pub afterwards. Introduced byRob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked, the online current affairs magazine that takes the attitude that Humanity is Underrated. He writes on a wide range of issues, but takes a particular interest in the issues of environment, food, energy and risk. Rob's book, Panic on a Plate: how society developed an eating disorder, was published by Societas in October 2011. He blogs about food He is a frequent commentator on TV and radio. Over the last few years the smorgasbord of panics over food have included: bacon and bladder cancer, beef and breast cancer, canned fish and premature birth, trans fats and heart disease, breakfast cereals and high blood pressure, processed foods and mental illness, mad cow disease, GM, saturated fat, and salt. Rob Lyons's intention in this book is to inve…

Warning: Women at Work!

Battle of Ideas Satellite Debate

Wednesday 12 October 2011 The Studio, Cannon St, Birmingham B2 5EP. 7.00pm until 8.45pm and in the pub afterwards. Research for the Institute of Leadership and Management earlier this year indicated 73% of women believe the ‘glass ceiling’ still exists, and this is borne out particularly when it comes to top-level management jobs (only 12% of FTSE 100 directors are women). Despite this, women workers have made major strides since the Ford machinists’ strike led to the Equal Pay Act 1970, as dramatised in the recent film Made in Dagenham. While there are still chauvinists in the high-powered world of business who think women are best suited for administrative roles – if not the kitchen sink - in truth women no longer suffer the gross discrimination they once did. Most workplaces are desperate to recruit more women to senior positions, and even some feminists acknowledge it is women themselves who sometimes choose less demanding careers in order to take r…

London's burning.

From Kenan Malik's blog 'Pandaemonium'. 1This is not a rerun of the inner city riots that shook Britain in the late seventies and the eighties. Those riots were a direct challenge to oppressive policing and to mass unemployment. They threatened the social fabric of Britain’s inner cities and forced the government to rethink its mechanisms of social control.  Today’s riots may have made the Metropolitan police look inept, revealed politicians as out of touch and brought mayhem to some parts of London, Liverpool and Birmingham. But there is little sense that they pose a challenge to social order, in the way that the 80s riots did, or that they are in any sense ‘insurrectionary’, as Darcus Howe described those revolts. Rather today’s riots amounted to the trashing of some of the poorest areas in the city. On Friday night, when the riots began in Tottenham, there was some political content to the violence, an inchoate response to the shooting of…

catching up

I've been very busy and haven't been updating this blog as I should.
There are so many things to comment on since I last posted.

I spent this past weekend at the most inspiring event I've been to in a very long time. The Academy, organised by the Institute of Ideas for its members, was mind-blowing stuff. It's worth becoming a member of the IOI to get invited next year I did the history strand during the day, looking at the English Civil War, empire, the origins of welfare thinking and how fascism developed in Europe. Other people did ancient Greek and Roman thought, we were all together, to discuss the rise of historical consciousness, in the afternoon. 
I knew little about the English Revolution before doing the reading for this and it's fascinating. The Putney Debates by The Levellers, recently published with an introduction by Geoffrey Robinson QC, is a cracking read. Geoffrey's intro is interesting but his life…

Battle of Ideas Festival 2011 Satellite debate at Birmingham Salon

As regular attendees to Birmingham Salon will know, we were inspired to organise meetings in Birmingham after attending The Battle of Ideas Festival - an annual event which takes place at the Royal College of Art, London on the last weekend in October.

This year we are very pleased to be hosting our second Satellite debate, entitled Warning - Women at Work! This will be a panel debate with four speakers discussing equality in the modern workplace.

The debate will be on Wednesday 12 October, 7.00pm until 9.00pm, at our usual venue The Studio, Cannon Street, Birmingham B2 5EP

The blurb for the debate is now on the Battle of Ideas website:

Speakers will be confirmed in due course.

My latest Free Society Column

Heady stuff as hair meets the High CourtMonday July 11, 2011An argument about a schoolboy’s haircut has gone to the High Court. Jason Smith finds that the courts are increasingly being asked to arbitrate on moral and cultural issues that should be left to common sense.
What is indirect racial discrimination? Is it being culturally insensitive while having no racist intentions? Is it being racist in an obtuse manner? Is it being oblivious to your own racist views? Recently the High Court gave an example of what it is – it is not giving due consideration to ‘a fundamental cultural practice’. A teenager known only as G has been a victim of this kind of discrimination perpetrated by his North London school. G, along with many British teenagers, wears his hair in tight cornrow braids. The school’s uniform policy stipulates ‘short, back and sides’ for boys and he therefore contravenes this policy. Exceptions are made to this rule for Sikh and Rastafarian pupils who may wear their hair below c…

It's better to have a bad free press than a “good” controlled one.

Brendan O'Neill in The Telegraph

Cameron holds a press conference at Downing Street this morning (Photo: Getty) This is a line that should send a shudder down the spine of every man and woman who cares about freedom of the press: “It is vital that a free press can tell truth to power; it is equally vital that those in power can tell truth to the press.” That threat, that ominous, Orwellian rewriting of the phrase “telling truth to power” as “using power to enforce the truth”, was uttered by David Cameron this morning. Cameron is doing nothing less than hinting at a rearrangement of the relationship between the state and the media. For too long, he implies, journalists have been at liberty to hack and investigate and say what they see fit; now, post-hacking scandal, those in authority must step up and cast a more watchful eye over these antics. When I once argued that the Guardian’s “almost pathological pursuit of the News of t…

My article on Foston pig farm has been re-published by Voltaire (Sweden)

VAD GRISARNAS VÄNNER BÖR VETA OM STORA FLÄSKFARMERDet senaste grälet mellan brittiska jordbrukare och djurrättsaktivister handlar om en cirka 30 tunnland stor grisproduktionsanläggning i Foston, Derbyshire, som föreslagits av Midland Pig Producers (MPP). Anläggningen skulle hysa 2 500 suggor och producera över tusen grisar i veckan.

Alex Salmond’s proposed new ‘anti-sectarian’ laws

Take a Liberty ( Scotland ) has launched a campaign against Alex Salmond’s proposed new ‘anti-sectarian’ laws. A statement and petition (see below) is being circulated around the UK to challenge what Stuart Waiton, from Take a Liberty (Scotland), believes is, ‘an almost unbelievably reactionary and authoritarian proposal’, being put forward by the Scottish government.

We believe that introducing a law to imprison people for up to five years because of offensive sectarian chanting or online comments is extreme and illiberal.


Signatories so far include.
Stuart Baird, Scottish Secondary School Teacher, Rangers fan and Take a Liberty ( Scotland ) supporter.

Dr Carlton Brick, Sociology of Sport, West of Scotland University, co-author Key Concepts in Sports Studies.

Eamonn Butler MA PhD, Director Adam Smith Institute, author of Milton Friedman: A Concise Guide to the ideas and influence of the Free-Market Economist.


Telling porkies about big pig farms

The latest spat between British farmers and animal welfare groups is over a 30-acre pig-production facility in Foston, Derbyshire, proposed by Midland Pig Producers (MPP). The farm will house 2,500 sows and produce more than a thousand pigs for sale each week.

MPP is one of the largest pig companies in the UK, producing over 100,000 pigs each year from 30 farms in eight counties. Size, it seems, is one of the main objections to the company’s proposed farm. Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) argues: ‘We are concerned at the sheer scale and the indoor nature of the proposed pig farm… we urge those planning the farm at Foston to retain their intended welfare standards but to break the proposal up into a number of much smaller farms.

The Environment Agency has objected to the Foston plans on the basis that its concrete slurry tank could, over time, leak and pollute the local water supply. This objection is similar to the one made by the agency in relation to the proposed dairy farm in Noc…

Private universities. The way forward?

There has been much hoo-har over the setting up of this new private university especially from academics at state-funded institutions. Given that state funding has eroded academic freedom, instrumentalised the purpose of higher education, and made a degree about obtaining 'skills for the labour market', rather than about obtaining knowledge in your specialist subject for its own sake - surely this new institution shows an imagination sadly lacking amongst many academics?
"A new private university in London staffed by some of the world's most famous academics is to offer degrees in the humanities, economics and law from 2012 at a cost of £18,000 a year, double the normal rate. The Oxbridge-style university college aims to educate a new British elite with compulsory teaching in science literacy, critical thinking, ethics and professional skills on top of degree subjects taught in one-to-one tutorials."…

California Bill Could Protect Cross-Dressing in the Work Force

I can't help but think any legislation to do with what people wear is a bad thing, but is this another gay/christian B&B moment? Private institutions/companies should surely be able to set their own rules. People should wear what they want but isn't what you wear to work a bit different?
"A California bill working its way through the state legislature providing more protection for transgender individuals in the workplace could allow for cross-dressing employees to wear whatever they want to work, despite workplace dress codes.
AB 887, which passed through the state's Assembly on May 16, is causing a stir among critics who feel it's raising the identity of a transgender individual to the same level as one's ethnicity or gender."
Read more:

Dodging the burger won't save the planet by Rob Lyons

Meat is murder, sang The Smiths. But according to a new documentary, the real problem is that meat is killing the planet – and maybe us, too.

Planeat is, pretty much, a 75-minute advert for veganism made ‘independently with absolutely no funding’ in their spare time by Shelley Lee Davies and Or Shlomi. But it’s not all hard polemic. Instead, it weaves in mouthwatering pictures of plant-based food from a variety of plush restaurants in an attempt to persuade you that not only is cutting out the animal-derived foods the ethical thing to do, but it won’t involve wearing a hairshirt, either. Not only will you be saving your health and the planet, but you’ll be discovering a whole new world of eating.
The three pillars of Planeat are T Colin Campbell, Caldwell Esselstyn and Gidon Eshel. Campbell is an American biochemist who worked on a 20-year study of Chinese diets and health and later produced a bestselling book, The China Study, which can apparently count former US president Bill Clinton…