March 21, 2008

Blogging audiences

Iain Dale is entirely right to say that blogging is not really a number's game. He is right for all the reasons he mentions. The one area I would suggest adding to Dale's account is the blog as purely a personal thing- this blog is undisciplined and eclectic partly because it just contains what I'm interested in on a particular day, could be Roman history, could be a 21st century Iranian film. You can market your blog obviously by being more specific but I think it depends what you are aiming for whilst blogging. Iain has been, though coyly he doesn't say this quite, a very successful blogger partly for his chatty style. Others adopt different styles and personas but there is no one right way to blog, you blog because you want to and ultimately its an expression of your personality. A blog which was marketted to a specific degree and turned away from your personality would not be one that was enjoyable to write (I have sometimes written articles because I had to and often those are the worst articles on here in my opinion). Iain is absolutely right and in some ways the more we worry about audiences, the less like blogs we become, the more constrained we are by our audiences.

Knowledge and Economics

Chris highlights a rather interesting fact- that consumer spending continued to grow over February despite the banking crisis and the panic in the City of London. Its not a fact that's been reported- and it could indicate that the economic situation is not quite as dire as it appears from reading the newspapers (it could not as well)- but there has been no discussion of it. There has been no analysis even of why it doesn't affect the underlying reality of impending doom. Its interesting for me at least to think about why. There are many possible causes- one of which being that those who write the newspaper articles are all of one mind and dismiss this fact as incidental for some reason and not reflective of underlying realities.

It isn't likely though that every journalist and economist working on these issues has actually made a conscious decision that these figures are to ignored. Rather I suspect they don't know about them. What this feeds into is an important intellectual concept about the gathering of knowledge and how it works. Since Thomas Kuhn philosophers have been interested in paradigms- insights that become the basis for everyone else's work. So for example scientists today will work with Einstein's theory of relativity seeking to extend it and allow for complications within it, they won't all go back and challenge it. Well something similar, but at a very greater speed, happens in journalism and on blogs. Everyone finds a story, they all agree that the story is crucial- say its the unpopularity of a government, the inability of a minister- and then they go and find evidence for it.

The process of journalism and of blogging is not as rational as it seems- we find the evidence which supports our conjectures about the world and we ignore the evidence which doesn't. The good bloggers or journalists go out and try and find evidence which contradicts their world view so that they have to think and be challenged- but there aren't many rewards for that. The rewards are there for people who carry on with the same world view (the Simon Heffers of this world) and who can fit any fact into it. With the economic crisis, there would be few rewards for saying that such a thing is not happening- the rewards come for stating with any ammount of economic literacy that it is and that its going to be awful, the next great depression etc etc. Afterall if it doesn't happen, the journalist will only be exposed in Private Eye but will be able to keep their job through the next paradigm.

Blackboards: Education and Civilisation


Blackboards is a stark film. It is an Iranian film, made about people on the border between Iran and Kurdistan during the war between Iran and Iraq. It portrays the life of itinerant teachers, roaming to find classrooms who will listen to what they have to say, to a basic smattering of learning- the alphabet and the two times table are the two pieces of information that our teachers attempt to convey. We follow two of these wanderers who separate off from the group and start attempting to retail their learning throughout the border areas. One takes the high path and the other the lower path. Reeboir goes up into the mountains and finds a group of young boys smuggling contraband between Iran and Iraq. Said takes the low road and ends up attached to a group of pilgrims attempting to get back to their homeland inside Iraq. Both form semi-emotional attachments: Reeboir to one boy who does sort of want to learn, Said gets married very briefly to a single mother in the party and then divorces from her when she demonstrates her lack of interesti in him.

Its a stark story though. The two characters encounter rejection after rejection after rejection. Said's relationship with his wife is particularly pathetic. She scarcely acknowledges his presence and doesn't even talk to him for most of the film. She ignores his efforts to teach her to read. But he also misjudges the situation, he is unable to see for instance that her ties to her son are more valuable to her than her ties to him, he fails to see that when she has lost her son, the last thing she wants is a lesson in Arabic grammar. Said's misunderstanding pervades the film. There is a sense in which this film is one of the most embarrassing I have ever sat through- you feel the embarrassment of the main characters. The truth is that they are trying to force education upon these people who don't really want it. Noone actually wants to learn to read and most of the time, Said and Reeboir are just hassling them to acquire a skill they see no need for.

And why should they need it? At no point does Said or Reeboir's skill come in useful. Ironically the one time someone does want Said to read something it is an old man whose son is in an Iraqi gaol, but the language of the letter is Arabic and Said can't read Arabic, only Kurdish. In a sense the whole film is summed up in the use of the blackboard. At no point is the blackboard actually useful as a teaching aide. Throughout the film, the blackboards that Said and Reeboir carry on their backs are used for all kinds of things- as shelters from airraids (as in the picture above) or rifle fire, cut up for splints so that an injured boy can walk, used to carry an old man who is ill or even used as a clothes line. But when they are used as blackboards- to convey knowledge- they are singularly inadequate. They fail to interest those who look at them- and on the one occasion where one of the boys does use the blackboard as a teaching aide, a bombing raid means that he has to flee. The last scene of the movie captures the utility of writing perfectly in this environment. Said wrote at the beggining of his relationship on the board 'I love you', his ex-wife turns away from him, carrying away her dowry, a blackboard with 'I love you' written on it. The irony is evident- words can say anything you want, but that is all Said has, the words and not the passion.

Writing is useless in this film because this film portrays a society right at the cusp of social development, right at the moment before society. We see no evidence here of law- and little evidence of property. There is nothing here- except warring armies whose shells, chemical weapons and rifles disrupt the lives of a nomad population. Writing is an artificial thing- writing 'I love you' to a girl only matters when she can read it and agrees with you on its meaning and significance. If she doesn't read or doesn't agree that those words are significant, you might as well have written 'I think you are a pink elephant' for all that it is going to effect the world. Similarly with writing when you are being bombed. The useful knowledge here is practical knowledge- medicine, remembered stories about rabbits- but training and academic degrees even in practical subjects are useless- there isn't the time to get them and to devote to them.

When we talk about civilisation, we often imply that it is natural. But it isn't. The best historians of the subject have discussed the way that civilisation is an artificial imposition- it is a creation whereby we warp the world. Much of what we do on earth to sustain it is useless- and its use is not its essence. The teachers come from a civilised world where one might want to read a book or a newspaper, to know what is going on. Education quite simply does not make sense to the people on the Iranian-Iraqi border, why should it? That implies something about civilisation in general- perhaps becoming civilised is not a rational choice- but rather a mutation produced by a particular constellation of things as a response to a particular situation. Blackboards leaves you in no doubt that there are few attractions to lure the people of Kurdistan to take up the blackboard and use it to teach: afterall when the planes are heading to bomb you from above, a blackboard is much better camoflage than sums are.

March 20, 2008

The Flight of the Red Balloon


The Flight of the Red Balloon is the kind of film that you shouldn't see in certain moods. Don't go if you want to see a film packed with action or plot- because this is not the film that will satisfy you. It will instead annoy. The film is a meditation. We follow a red balloon across Paris in the first twenty minutes and then we follow a family, a single mother Suzanne, her son Simon, Simon's Chinese nanny Song and various other characters who come in and out of their lives. Always round the next corner or behind the window lurks a red balloon which follows Simon- and Song, a film student, is making a film about the presence of red balloons in Paris (a homage to the French film, Le Ballon Rouge).

The film is languid. It really does not have a plot- there are several plots but none of them connect or really have anything to do with each other. Suzzanah's friendship with Song steadily grows over the movie. There are episodes in which Song does favours for her, translating the work of a Chinese puppeteer for her, turning her father's old 88mm film into modern video and generally being the friend that Suzanne needs. Suzanne herself is faced with repeated troubles- she seems always rushing to do something else. A single mother, whose boyfriend Pierre is a feckless novelist staying in Montreal rather than facing his responsibilities, she has to work, keep her son happy and also manage her own property. The anarchy of modern city life is central to the film's perception of Suzanne's life.

The director's choice is to eschew story in favour of a sort of realism. Hence the film doesn't really go anywhere or does anything. Rather than that we see the contours of real life- which are difficult to perceive as a narrative, we live our lives in streams of events not in stories. In one sense therefore this story is a more realistic perception than you often get in films of what life is like. On the other hand there are reasons why film makers in the past have forced their perceptions of life into stories. It keeps people watching- film is not merely documentary, it is also entertainment and a film which does not entertain ultimately is a worthless film. Hsiao Hsien Hou attempts to add a magical element to his story via the traverse of the red balloon across the screen and musical interludes- this is an attempt to add both meaning and mystique to the plot. One is tempted to wonder about the metaphysical meaning of the balloon- some critics view that balloon as an image of the way that the past constantly touches the present in the movie.

I am not so sure that there is a deep philosophical meaning here or that it is an interesting one if it is present. Rather this film strikes me as the kind of film that excites film students and those who love cinematography. There are some wonderfully crafted shots- some truly exquisite moments of cinema. There are also some superb moments for the characters- all the actors here, particularly the excellent Juliette Binoche manage to capture their characters. But ultimately this is a film without a plot, and thought it may have a philosophical point, that point is not easy to capture or define. Just under 2 hours is a long time to spend with a film whose only reccomendation is the beauty of its shots and moments of excellence. It seems barbaric to dismiss this film but there is something disappointing for the non-film student. Paris is indeed beautiful, the cherubic Simon is charming- but there isn't much more to this film than that.

The Flight of the Red Balloon is a film student's failure. Having said that, if you want to see some beautiful shots of Paris and some charming acting, you'll like it. But it has no plot, no real point. It is just what it is- a piece of triviality which aspires to be something more, a piece of beauty that lasts a long time admiring itself- and ultimately an exquisite folly. See it if that's what you want, but if you don't, I'd reccomend something more mainstream.

March 19, 2008

Remembering home: The Netherlands amongst Dutch Americans

David Zwart has an interesting article in the most recent edition of the Michigan Historical Review. Zwart argues that in the 1940s two images of the Netherlands came into contact and conflict. On the one hand the Netherlands Information Bureau (set up by the Dutch government during the second world war) attempted to put forward an image of the Dutch as modern and powerful, a good ally for the United States thanks to their toleration of religion, their modernity and their resistance to Naziism. On the other was the image cultivated amongst the conservative religious folk of places like Holland, Michigan. Many of these people had fled the Netherlands in the 19th Century, they had fled what they saw as religious persecution to the New World and compared themselves explicitly to the Pilgrim Fathers. Their image of the homeland was as a traditional and unindustrial place, a place where religious persecution thrived and that marked a moment in the eschatalogical history of the human race- when the people of God were turned on by a pharisaical majority.

Zwart devotes a lot of interesting attention to the ways in which people developed both identities. The Netherlands Bureau used all the traditional press tactics of the 40s, sending journalists to Indonesia for example and monitoring the American press. They also produced propaganda films in great quantity. Perhaps more interestingly, the citizens of Michigan, one of the largest Dutch settlements in the US, also sought to influence public opinion about their homeland. They put in a festival about tulips every year, emphasizing the traditional Holland that they had left. They also put on a festival about their own origins which blamed the Dutch 19th Century authorities for their intolerance. They emphasized these occasions with a national advertising campaign, seeking tourists and making the point that they shared an experience of America as a promised land of religious freedom and fulfilment. Most of these settlers had come from one church and retained their affiliation with it- so this religious sense of emancipation was crucial to their identity as Dutch-Americans.

It is easy to see that these two visions of Holland- one put forward by the Dutch government and the other perpetuated by an immigrant community were in conflict with each other. Zwart is not as good as he could be in establishing this conflict in a real sense- the campaigns don't seem to have been directly antagonistic- but there is no denying that their messages conflicted, their portraits of Holland were drawn from very different sources. Whether they confused Americans is another matter of course, and there are indications in Zwart's article that Americans were worried about other things, not less Dutch imperial behaviour in Indonesia and the Dutch position in the world, than the behaviour of Dutch Americans but still the detail is interesting. Often we assume that immigrant communities are a sort of fifth column for their home country: on this occasion though we see something very different. The community in Holland, Michigan and the Dutch community throughout the US had an image of the Netherlands that was negative, as a pre-industrial and repressive community. Their message directly conflicted with efforts to cement American-Dutch friendship in the mid-twentieth century. Relations between them and the home country were much more ambiguous than our picture of immigrants as fifth columnists might suggest: they brought their politics over from Europe, but it was a politics antagonistic to Europe. Their immigration was a moment of liberation from tyranny, it did not make them look nostalgically at the home country.

March 18, 2008

Barack Obama's religion

Reading about Barack Obama's speech on race (of which more here) what astonishes me is the religious rhetoric that Obama uses. His speech seems to me deeply Christian in its motivations- and in its tropes. Particularly Obama's concern with forgiveness shines through the speech and particularly his forgiveness for someone close to him who has disappointed him. Furthermore it is the absense of anger in the speech whether at black or white racists, but the willingness to find reasons for their evil feelings that suggests to me a deep Christian conviction. Central to the Christian faith is the idea that one should hate sins not the sinner, that one should forgive and turn the other cheek and that one should not cast the first stone. Senator Obama managed to bring out in his speech many of those sentiments and suggested that the best way to end racism was to end the conditions which brought it about. In this sense Obama is a more religious candidate than many I've heard of or read about before running for office, it will be interesting to see if this kind of rhetoric works. But its testament to the fact that religion in the US works on the right as well as on the left.

A new Baby Boom?

John Radzilowski provides an interesting argument in the Journal of American Ethnic History that the United States saw a baby boom amongst immigrants in the 1920s. He suggests that you can see this having an effect in all parts of American history- for instance in some Polish parishes in 1941 40% of the congregation went to fight in World War Two. Radzilowski doesn't suggest many implications- some are obvious though. The American migration of southern and eastern Europeans was so large and over so quickly that its impact is not really a good indicator of what other immigrant populations will do. Secondly this immigrant community and in particular its brief and important baby boom in the twenties changed American history- a huge generation of young people in the thirties emerging from labouring working classes in the midst of the depression helps explains the rise in crime in the thirties. Its possible there are other conclusions that might be drawn but Radzilowski draws attention to an interesting demographic phenomenon.

March 17, 2008

Beowulf


Beowulf is one of the most ancient poems that we have. It is the Illiad of English verse- we know little about when it was written or how it was put together. Putting it on the screen was always going to be difficult- the sentiment and thought of the Saxon ages of England are not easy to recover without caricature- skilled hands and minds are needed for the task. Unfortunately skilled hands and minds did not put together this recent effort. It is sad that the director thinks that the original poem is 'boring'- that tells you something about his abilities to direct this film. You can see the marks of exertion: the script is filled with references to the coming of Christianity and sentimental analyses of sexual passion and the way that it corrupts men. Indeed if anything this is a replacement of the complicated morality of the original- with a simple equation between promiscuity and the beggining of moral turpitude.

The film's glossiness is part of its attempt to appeal- but that glossiness fails. The film was developed by using new digital techniques and the actors here do not appear, only their images constructed from software. It does not really work. For this viewer, the animation did not work. I was not terrified by Grendel but amused, not titillated by Grendel's mother but bored. The animation lessened the power of the story and made the point that the film makers were attempting to make less powerful than it should have been. As plenty of other film reviewers have commented the film contains adult material- sex and violence abound- and yet the visual style is one that only works with children and teenagers. In that sense the style and the story contradict, in order to take the first seriously, you have to be of an age where you cannot absorb the second.

Passing on to the subject of the story. What we have here is the repeated efforts of heroes to liberate their world from monsters- Grendel, Grendel's mother and a dragon all crop up- but they are undermined always by their desire for the seductive mother. Beowulf from the moment he enters the story is a ladies man, eyeing up a young queen (wife to the King who needs his help) and eventually he sleeps with Grendel's mother to create a new monster the dragon. We learn that in this, Beowulf merely immitates the actions of Hrothgar, the King who needed his help, who too slept with Grendel's mother and fathered Grendel. This story suggests two things- that the sexual wiles of women are irresistable and always evil and that as Beowulf says it is not Grendel who is a monster but we humans who are monsters.

Both are very unrealistic hooks to hang a story from- and neither it should be noted are in the original. The succubus is an old idea- but in an age of equality and comradeship between men and women a rather old fashioned idea- its not unusual of course for men to do foolish things because of sex but in this film, sexual desire is almost solely a bad thing and in life of course it isn't. Life is more complicated than that. Furthermore in this film political power creates monsters- whereas actually in reality, monsters were always the creation not of political power but of lawlessness. That is true both of Greek and Norse myth. Monsters live in the world of heroes- the world before the state- before a monopoly of force. Interestingly in this story of sons slaying fathers the Oedipal element is completely left out- the idea that the son could be a challenge to the father is cod psychology but probably too sophisticated for this film.

More interesting than the film's premises are its value as a social document about how we see the past. Christianity here is the post-heroic religion- the religion as Neitsche saw it- the religion of cowardice and forgiveness. To this is counterbalanced the ethic of the hero and the pagan- its an ethic that many feel nostalgic for, especially on the political right and explains for example the return of many conservatives to the classical world for inspiration. This film is a testament to that sense of unease that we still seem to have with the world that we have- the civilised world, the legal world. Its an interesting phenomenon and one that deserves thinking about- but definitely this interpretation of Beowulf is contrary to Lewis and Tolkein's myths- they sought to reinforce Christianity and law, this seeks to undermine it.

A story with bad premises need not be a bad story- it doesn't help but neither is it an insuperable barrier. The problem with Beowulf though is that the film is really not much more than the sum of its special affects (cartoonish special effects) which light up the sky. The dialogue is too stilted and replaces the beauty of the original with a sort of stilted modernism. The voices work in many cases- Sir Anthony Hopkins does for example his usual turn so does Ray Winstone- but nowhere is there any special work. This is grunting gruffness by numbers. Its worth it if you like seeing cartoon dragons have their guts sliced open or cartoon sexiness- but I'm not sure that that is a major qualification for a film.

The long and the short of it is that this is a film in which Beowulf wrestles, monsters get biffed and Angelina Jolie gets naked (as a cartoon!). There isn't much more than that to this film.

Milosevic on Trial

Slobodan Milosevic was an awful tyrant- one of the worst that the world has seen and his condemnation throughout the globe (excluding perhaps Serbia and Russia) was deserved. He sanctioned the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and began wars which killed even more. In the early part of this century, Milosevic was surrendered by Serbia to the International Court at the Hague and in a trial, designed deliberately as an imitation of the Nuremberg, a set of prosecutors and judges attempted to bring him to account and make a finding of fact about what happened in Serbia during the 1990s. It is fairly evident that the Serbs committed atrocities, the prosecution's task was to prove as a matter of law that those atrocities had happened and that Milosevic had been behind them.

As such the documentary, originally made for television in 2007 but screened as part of a human right's season at the Clapham Picture House this year, chronicles that process of judicial interrogation. It presents footage from the trial- so you see the exchanges between witnesses, lawyers, judges and of course Slobodan himself who decided to represent himself in his own case. The rest of the film contains interviews with other people involved in the trial- particularly the lead prosecution lawyer, Geoffrey Nice, and on the other side Milosevic's lawyer, young, articulate and English speaking Dragoslav Ognjanovic. Ognjanovic is a Serbian nationalist who argues that Serbia itself is on trial, not Milosevic at the Hague and also believes that the trial is unjust. Nice on the other hand argues that the trial is not merely just but neccessary, and provides substantiating evidence of the atrocities, particularly by being filmed going to places where the Serbs killed people and discussing on camera the events that took place there.

The courtroom drama is fascinating. There are several exchanges which show vividly the way that Milosevic was able to exploit the system of the court in order to make his own points. Obviously in any legal system, you have to provide opportunities for the defence to make their points: Milosevic was quite able to turn the trial into a political occasion, airing bizarre conspiracy theories- apparantly the US, Germany and the Vatican were behind the Srebrenica massacre for example. The court process though is interesting from another perspective- you get a sense of the drama of a trial- the unexpected withdrawel by witnesses of their statements, the dramatic moments when evidence is produced, the confrontations between witnesses and lawyers and the confrontation of those who committed war crimes but protest innocence with evidence of their crimes. This is particularly vivid in the case of the leader of MUP (the Serbian military police), General Ivanovic, who is at one point shown evidence that MUP's specialist unit, the Scorpions, committed crimes within Bosnia.

All that is good- but the footage of the trial is often arranged to tell the story too dramatically. Its an odd criticism to make of a film that its too dramatic- but lots of this film feels like it has been drawn together by the conventions of staging and not those of truth. Firstly some of the material outside the court feels staged- meetings between Milosevic's appointed legal team are stilted and obviously done later for camera. There is a constant attempt on behalf of the documentary makers to assert that all interviews were done contemporaneously with the footage that they explore- it would have been better had those interviews been done later and admitted that they were historical. Furthermore this staginess means that we lose track of particular allegations: you capture the clash of the personalities but have little idea of what the Serb army or police force actually did. We know from the film that they weren't very nice, but I'm sure the film makers could have provided excerpts from the trial or even interviews which would have taken us further into understanding what happened in Bosnia and Croatia in the 90s. Furthermore, this is a portrait of an evil man, but nowhere do we get an examination of evil and what it means to be evil, what made him evil. The film takes us to the doorstep of tyranny, but does not open the latch and look inside the mind of the tyrant. Occasionally Geoffrey Nice tells us that Milosevic was an opportunist who lost control of himself and proceeded to start to do illegal things in the cause of opportunistic desire for power, but nowhere is this fleshed out.

Partly all these issues result from the conventions and limitations of documentary film making. It would have been nice to see more- but the case was not concluded and the footage say of final speeches does not exist. Milosevic died just before he was to have closed his defence and so there was no verdict. Furthermore the documentary is limited by the available time- it lasts just under an hour and a half and sums up a legal process that lasted many years, in which time both the first judge assigned Sir Richard May and the defendant died. There are complexities that naturally it cannot cope with. It also suffers from the nature of a modern documentary, explaining events to those who have forgotten the nightly bulletins from the former Yugoslavia in the nineties. Styllistic tics apart, its fascinating to see the largely unexpurgated film of the events in the courtroom.

The most fascinating thing about events in the courtroom is the behaviour of the protagonists. Milosevic behaves like a politician confronted with an accusation- he blusters and widens the question in the way that politicians do when confronted by accusations. The lawyers on the other hand behave like lawyers, focussing in a dispassionate way on the minutiae of the case. The differences between the approaches, the languages, that the two sides use is evident throughout and provokes most of the judicial ire with Milosevic: he did not behave ultimately as a witness on trial but as a politician in a political process. To some extent of course he was a politician involved in a political process- he was right- the process was intended to reach a political end, which was to account for genocide. But on the other hand, his behaviour devalued the way that was being used to achieve that end- for his own purposes Milosevic wanted to impugn the language of impartial legality with which the trial was examining his crimes. He did not want to be convicted but more than that, he did not want the possibility of a verdict. He did not beleive that there was anything wrong with what happened under his regime- and his way of proving that was to state that a legal method was the wrong way to examine his regime. Its an argument that his supporters have been making ever since.

Was the trial of Milosevic ultimately a good thing? On balance I think you have to conclude it was: partly for the sake of the victims. At one point we are presented with a montage of victims of Serbian atrocities: one can only imagine the cathartic release of at last giving evidence about what had happened to them in an open court. Its the same instinct that leads families in normal murder cases to fervently desire justice for their loved one, that meant the trial was a vindication of sorts and a closing of a chapter in kind for these people. As to Milosevic, it is hard to dismiss what happened at the trial. Thousands of hours of evidence were produced showing how horrible the Serb government of Yugoslavia was. The verdict was, as the film suggests ultimately, less important than the documentary record supplied. Geoffrey Nice even suggests, rightly in my view, that the verdict may well have obscured in the end the sheer volume of evidence submitted in the trial. Because we have an incomplete process in the end, all we can see is the evidence of Milosevic's wrong doing.

This is an interesting documentary- it isn't often that you see inside an international court room- you may not understand the process or the history of Yugoslavia much more at the end of the film than you did at the beggining, but you do get a sense of the scale of the atrocities and the personal drama of the court room. This is the court as gladiatorial combat, not as long boring argument, its courtroom politics for television: that has its disadvantages but also its memorable strengths.

March 16, 2008

Iain Dale, Background and Parliament

Iain Dale posted a rather interesting article today which argued that journalists tended to report stories about people like them. He even suggested that this meant that Labour ministers like Harriet Harmon got an easier time of it because their dilemmas about selection in schools were the same as those faced by the Nick Robinsons of the world. He may indeed be right. But I doubt that Iain really thought through the implications of what that would mean. Because if he is right about the 'people like us' phenomenon and if he agrees with me that most MPs spend most of their time leglislating about things that none of us elected them to do (from road safety to foreign relations with Belize to business law) then he would also agree that one of the things that a population of MPs have to be is not merely representative of the population through election, but also 'people like us'. In the sense, that if what Iain says is right, MPs should represent the population statistically in terms of their background as well as representing them through election: afterall otherwise they will just be leglislating for the upper middle class inhabitants of Westminster (not that there is anything particularly wrong with being upper middle class- but it is just one segment of the population). I take it therefore that Iain is in favour of all-women shortlists, all-ethnic minority shortlists, perhaps all working class shortlists? By the logic of his arguments he ought to be...