Monday, 29 September 2008

Video Of The Week (39)

Video of the Week 23/09-29/09: That's Pathetic

The interview of Sarah Palin by Katie Couric has produced a whole series of jaw-dropping moments of amazement that someone this obviously out of her depth could be next in line to the US Presidency should the Republicans win. Jack Cafferty, of CNN, was amazed too - and didn't half let it show...

It's April In September

Via The Broadsheet Rag

Seriously, I know it's the last week of September not the first week of April, but this has to be a wind-up.

The Department of Homeland Security is testing a type of body scanner that seeks out invisible clues that a person might be harbouring criminal intent, such as raised body temperature, pulse and breathing rate.

'MALINTENT' will supposedly speed up security checks in airports, with the ability to distingush a passenger in a rush from someone with "hostile intent". Sounds promising, right? But how are they able to test this system? They claim 78% accuracy in detection of 'mal-intent'...
Some of the volunteers were told to act suspiciously as they walked past the FAST sensors.
Hahahahahaha. Oh dear.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Seen Elsewhere (18)

All eyes have been on the US once again this week, with the Wall Street bailout and the Presidential candidates' debates filling the column inches and the blogs. But there's plenty to talk about here in Blighty as well...

  • ID Cards are here (for some foreign residents from November)! And, as Trixy points out, they look just like any other EU ID card. Tygerland explains why this is such a bad idea, in case it wasn't obvious.

  • A good blog has been lost this week - at the behest of the European Parliament. Gawain Towler's England Expects was "ironique et eurosceptique", apparently. EU Referendum and Liberal Conspiracy comment.

  • Ken Frost on more over-zealous officials banning things - in this case goggles in a swimming pool. But wait, here's Longrider, writing in defence of health & safety advisors. Whatever next? Devil's Kitchen joining the Labour Party? (Maybe not).

  • Don't get their hopes up! Political Betting discusses the 'Labour conference boost'.

  • This post at Bob's Head Revisited on the Communications Data Bill has a funny title. It's a shame the content is not funny in the least. The Government think a new database of our phone calls, e-mails and internet use might not be popular, so they're going to go ahead with it without Parliamentary debate!

Mini-Blogpower Round-up


Concentrating on the blogs with names starting with letters in the second half of the alphabet, here's my pick of the posts from the Blogpower community's blogs this week...
  • In view of the financial crisis, Paulie at Never Trust A Hippy has 'a declaration' for right-wing libertarians.

  • Devonshire Dumpling (No Clue) on the privacy of our medical histories (R.I.P).

  • ID cards to be forced on those who cannot refuse. "Disgusting", says The Thunder Dragon. I agree.

  • Pub Philosopher, on 'sensitivity' taken to absurd lengths yet again, this time by the British Sociological Association. The first comment here is so true, as well.

  • MJW (Observations From The Hillside) on another of the problems facing Labour at conference - having to placate the hard left.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Correction

The Bush Bailout, as (assuming it passes, which sadly looks likely) it will surely be known, is the most expensive sticking plaster in the world's history.

It's a plan that will do nothing to stop the derivatives scam that as I discussed yesterday has blown up into unimaginable proportions. It will propel the US Federal Government's debt towards a barely less unimaginable figure of $10 trillion. And at the other end of the scale, it is a plan that will do nothing for the million plus people who have fallen victim to the ground-level manifestation of the scam and lost their homes.

Don't just take it from me. This is the view of Richard Fisher, President of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank:

"The [bailout plan] places one more straw on the back of the frightfully encumbered camel that is the federal government ledger...We are deeply submerged in a vast fiscal chasm." - Richard Fisher

Not even the US Government has an unlimited pot of money. Either the money is to be taken from tax revenue (which in total is only around 4 times the proposed bailout figure - and spending is already outpacing total tax take - or they're going to print money, with all the risks to the country's economic well-being that comes with doing so.

The supporters of the bailout typically cry '...but without it we'd all be doomed!', talking as (to take just one example) Kevin Boatang did about the "collapse of the economy". No, it is just delaying the inevitable...

The economy is not going to collapse, bailout or no bailout. The most appropriate response I have seen to these overblown claims of imminent disaster:
"Look around you. Do you see cities and highways and skyscrapers and farms and factories and rails and ships?

Do you imagine that all will VANISH unless the Congress lavishes a fortune unprecedented in human history upon a corporate aristocracy whose avaricious mismanagement has created the eve of their collapse?"
- taraka das (Daily Kos)

Yes, as Boatang implies it may make credit significantly more difficult to obtain, at least in the short term. In the long-run, it ought to herald the return of such old-fashioned concepts as creditworthiness, and responsible lending - and an end to the casino of debt. Taraka's proposed solution as outlined later in the linked post is not a wise course of action, but nor is the Paulson/Bernanke bailout plan.

As Patrick Vessey - one of the few libertarians to be writing posts on such issues before 'Meltdown Monday' and subsequent events brought them to the forefront - points out, the central role played by credit in so many of our lives is a recent development; it should not be so that we have become so dependent on its easy availability.

This is not a disaster - it is a long overdue correction.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

An Economic Sticking Plaster

"I remember a banker once trying to explain to me how the mortgage of, say, an unemployed single parent in St Louis could be morphed into a triple-A rated financial investment in London, New York or Paris. Magically, impoverishment became a "special investment vehicle". Try as hard as the banker did to get me to comprehend the beautiful simplicities of the whole process, I remained baffled. It was, I suppose, some sort of relief later on to discover that it was not me who was stupid." - Chris Patten

I too am taken aback. Actually, 'taken aback' is an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that I (like thousands of others) have been taken in.

I took it as read that the investment banks - those seemingly invincible titans that until last week dominated the City and Wall Street - knew what they were doing with all those exotic financial instruments, rather than simply gambling wildly while riding the economic boom.

I did occasionally think "what the fuck?", such as when I read that the value of derivatives on the market has increased by $400 trillion in 5 years, including $43 trillion worth of credit default derivatives. But I put those twinges of doubt to the back of my mind. I was wrong to do so.

"The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear...In our view, however, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal."
- Warren Buffett* (2002)
"Nobody seems to recognize what a disaster of a system they’ve created. It’s a demented system. In engineering, people have a big margin of safety. But in the financial world, people don’t give a damn about safety. They let it balloon and balloon and balloon. It’s aided by false accounting. I’m more pessimistic about this than Warren...To say accounting for derivatives in America is a sewer is an insult to sewage" - Charlie Munger (2002)
"What we are witnessing is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August." - William H Gross(2008)

...And yet, despite these warnings, no-one with any power to do anything about it seems to have anticipated the events of the past two weeks, until Lehman Brothers failed and the dominoes began to fall, bringing about the situation we currently find ourselves in. - hence the clearly hastily drawn up bailout plan. It's not as though it's a complete surprise. It isn't as though the term 'credit crunch' was coined in the past fortnight - default levels began to rise markedly in the US over two years ago.

As long as the potential for short-term gain was there, though, and the personal costs of even the worst failure are low - Lehman CEO Dick Fuld, for instance, remains a multi-millionaire despite overseeing the collapse of his bank - the chance of enough of the people involved putting the brakes on the bets on bets on bets on debts unlikely to ever be repaid to prevent this meltdown were slim indeed.

As you may surmise, the $700 billion bailout that is currently being debated in the US Congress is nothing more than a sticking plaster (and one which some have suggested may have some very nasty side effects).

It will do nothing to move us closer to a solution to the problem that got us into this mess in the first place - the greed and unenlightened self-interest of those responsible. Even though they have fucked it up - their gambling with billions that they didn't have and were never going to get has come home to roost - those responsible are not going to give up the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have 'earned' over the years of the bubble, now the meltdown is here. Bailout, or no bailout.

* PDF

Monday, 22 September 2008

Video Of The Week (38)

Video of the Week 16/09-22/09: Fundamentals

Following the tumultuous events on Wall Street last week, the 'deregulation debate' has come to dominate the battle for the White House as well. Here's the Obama campaign, taking advantage of an ill-timed McCain comment to push their 'out-of-touch' theme...

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Creating A Furore

It's one of those stories that would probably have attracted a lot more publicity if there weren't so much else going on at the moment.

Michael Reiss, a professor of science education and bioethics, has resigned as Director of Education at the Royal Society following a controversy over remarks relating to the discussion of creationism in school science lessons - remarks reported by the BBC, for instance, as representing a 'Call for Creationism in Science'.

So far, so unsurprising. A position of support for the teaching of creationism, or 'intelligent design' as science is not compatible with holding perhaps the most prestigious post in the field of science education in this country. However, this isn't quite what Reiss said, at the British Association Festival of Science last week.

"An increasing percentage of children in the UK come from families that do not accept the scientific version of the history of the universe and the evolution of species.

What are we to do with those children? My experience after having tried to teach biology for 20 years is if one simply gives the impression that such children are wrong, then they are not likely to learn much about the science that one really wants them to learn.

I think a better way forward is to say to them 'look, I simply want to present you with the scientific understanding of the history of the universe and how animals and plants and other organisms evolved"
- Michael Reiss

Although the words of Reiss were a far cry from actually recommending that creationism be taught in science lessons, the damage was done. The Royal Society considered that their reputation had been damaged by the suggestion, and Reiss stepped down.

Suggestions that Reiss was victimised because of his religion - he is an ordained Anglican cleric as well as a professor - have gained some currency, particularly in the wake of comments by Richard Dawkins and Sir Richard Roberts, the latter expressing bemusement that a clergyman was selected as Director of Education in the first place.
"We gather Professor Reiss is a clergyman, which in itself is very worrisome. Who on earth thought that he would be an appropriate Director of Education, who could be expected to answer questions about the differences between science and religion in a scientific, reasoned way?" - Sir Richard Roberts

There is a fine line between 'explaining (in the context of a science lesson) why creationism isn't compatible with science, in order to improve scientific understanding' - which is perfectly reasonable and something a good teacher should be doing rather than talking at their pupils for an hour or so - and 'accommodationism' - i.e. pretending that religion and science exist in separate domains even when one contradicts the other.

Reiss may not have crossed the line in his speech at the University of Liverpool, but, as atheist blogger Heresiarch explains, there are signs elsewhere - particularly in this article at the Guardian's science blog, as well as in a previous interview for the Guardian - that Reiss is more sympathetic to a faith-based interpretation of the world than Heresiarch or I would consider acceptable for someone holding the position he did. Heresiarch points out that Reiss was partially responsible for a deplorable redesign of the GCSE curriculum that incorporates the discussion of creationism as a "socio-scientific" issue. Perhaps the latest controversy is just the straw that broke this particular camel's back.

Seen Elsewhere (17)

High Drama in High Finance

This week has seen the world of banking turned upside down. Is it, as some have suggested, the end of an era of deregulation and enormous bonuses?

Is the '2008 Financial Crisis' over, following unprecedented Government bailouts? Or is what amounts to "a de facto nationalization of the entire banking, insurance, and related financial system" only the beginning?

Are we"in uncharted waters now"?. London Banker appears to think so, as does Patrick Vessey. Meanwhile, Charlotte Gore was inspired by the plan.

Earlier in the week, Karl Denninger warned of the possibility of hyperinflation in the US via YouTube. More commentary comes from Bearwatch. This comments thread is also worth a read.

Political commentary on the week's events from the far-left, the slightly less far left, the liberal left, a moderate libertarian and a right-wing libertarian (who had a bad betting experience).

Does the crisis present Labour with an unexpected opportunity? It certainly didn't do the Lib Dems much good, coinciding as it did rather unfortunately with their conference! James Graham does have a worthwhile post from a Lib Dem point of view.

Finally, for anyone left cold by all this, here's the 'credit crunch' explained in words of (mostly) one syllable.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Political Science

An interesting study for those who (as I am) are interested in the reasons why people hold different political views has been published in the latest issue of Science.

People who react more strongly to bumps in the night, spiders on a human body or the sight of a shell-shocked victim are more likely to support public policies that emphasize protecting society over preserving individual privacy. - Prof John Hibbing, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Although, clearly, these particular attitudes are only one of the elements that come together to make up an individual's range of views, the outcomes of studies like this have an important role to play in helping us understand the psychology of politics.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Second In The World

Britain's paralympians, that is. When I posted on the subject of the Paralympics in Beijing last week after 5 days of the Games, the UK were second in the medal table, with 21 gold medals.

The Games are now complete, and the Great British paralympian athletes have repeated their 2004 achievement, and come 2nd in the final medal table, ahead of the United States.

Here is the full list of British winners.

How Not To Win At Politics (2)

2: Irk The Purists

Bringing the focus back across the Atlantic again, it is worth contrasting the ways in which people in the USA receive their information about the political sphere with those that are strongly influential in the UK.

The power of the broadcast media in the USA in shaping political opinion has been the subject of countless editorials and much hand-wringing takes place over "those people who watch Fox and listen to Rush (Limbaugh)".

However, strangely, the same concerns are seldom raised over here - it seems to be taken as read that our broadcast media, dominated as it is by a state broadcaster paid for by what is in effect a tax on owning a television, is somehow clean as a whistle. We're supposed to believe that it isn't acting as any kind of propaganda vehicle, insidiously (for it is not upfront about it in the way Fox is over in the US) promoting its own centre-left, statist, pro-EU values. By subtle slanting rather than outright lying, by omission rather than overt promotion, but the end result isn't much different.

'Hold on, Ian', you might be thinking, 'but people in the UK are clearly not being taken in by this. Aren't a majority against the EU? Don't people hate the Nanny State? Didn't the polls just show the Tories taking a 26% lead?'.

You'd be quite right to be thinking that. Here is where another aspect of the UK media landscape which does not have an equivalent in the US comes in - our national press, and in particular the Daily Mail, The Sun, and perhaps also the Daily Express*.
We have these newspapers to thank that the BBC's propagandising is not more successful.

Many on the left realise this, hence the existence of several blogs dedicated in whole or in significant part to pounding these three newspapers. There's Daily Mail Watch, Enemies Of Reason, Five Chinese Crackers, and now also Tim Ireland's latest project The Sun - Tabloid Lies. Without the Sun, the Mail and the Express, there would be no bulwark in this country against the social democratic, EU-federalist line of the BBC - it's no wonder the leftists behind these blogs want to throw everything they have at the tabloids.

Of course, the tabloids are far from perfect. In some ways their editorial lines aid an authoritarian state, maintaining a state of fear of terrorism and crime. However, I strongly believe that we are better off with them than without them. Without them, the social democrats would have free rein, with nothing having any sort of mass circulation able to challenge their worldview. Therefore, as an EU-sceptic and an opponent of the social democratic ideology of 'progress' by expansion of the state and disempowerment of the voter, I consider that - despite its flaws - the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

Just as there is no room for idealism in on-the-ground politics, as I discussed in Part 1, there is no room for purism either. Sometimes you have to take your allies where you can find them. Tim Worstall gets it, as this timely post makes clear, but many others don't...


* For the purposes of this discussion, we can roughly consider the Mirror and Telegraph to cancel each other out, and the other 4 have too low a circulation to worry about.
** The title of this post was inspired by this song, by Half Man Half Biscuit.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

How Not To Win At Politics (1)

1: The Kings of Wishful Thinking

There's a certain way of thinking about politics that, though in a way understandable, is unfortunately also utterly wrong.

I encountered a sterling example of what I am talking about in a discussion thread over at Boatang & Demetriou (highly recommended blog, BTW) today.

We can inform people and have them be against the EU simply by telling them the facts, because the facts are shocking enough, without having to resort to hate filled bile like the Mail pumps out on a daily basis - Kevin Boatang.

No, no, and no again. This - this belief that if only 'we' tell people our side of the story, calmly and factually, that they will be convinced and come around to 'our' way of thinking, is so far from the actual way things work that it isn't even funny.

You might call this cynicism. It's not - it's realism. And if ever I begin to feel that maybe I am being a little bit too cynical, events across the Atlantic conspire to ram home the following message:

It doesn't matter to what degree you are right and the other lot are wrong. It doesn't matter if their policies will make people poorer, less safe, and their lives more miserable than if your side were to win. None of that can help you, if your presentation is wrong. The Democrats may have been substantially the better choice on the most important issues in 2004, just as they are this time around...

...The Republicans understand this, oh so well. The GOP knew the correct approach in 2004, saw that it worked, and are successfully applying the same tactics, borne of this understanding of the reality of democratic politics, this time around too. Hence the selection of Palin despite her patent unsuitability for the role of Vice-President and her extreme right-wing views. Hence the constant barrage of half-truths and lies in Republican ads. And it's working again.

The Democrats seem not to understand this at all. Even now, nearly 3 weeks after the game-changing introduction of Palin, official Democrat ads are almost without exception dry, factual and low-key. They seem to think that "you can inform people simply by telling them the facts", and that this will result in electoral victory. Oh dear. There is another way, but it's tough to change the habits of a lifetime... So, I guess we ought to start preparing for 4 more years of the Bush doctrine, with an added element of loose cannon.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Why we need the Daily Mail

MORE: Michael Tomasky discusses the Democrats' predicament.

Twenty Billion Pounds

This, on a thread about Nick Clegg's promise of tax cuts, is one of the best comments I have ever seen on CiF:

The NHS IT programme is a complete, utter fucking mess. It doesn't work and it never will work. It will eventually be scrapped, and if Liebour were still in power it would promptly be replaced by something even more useless and expensive.

It will end up costing the taxpayer twenty billion pounds. Do you understand what twenty billion pounds are? Let me help you:

On the day that Queen Victoria died, I put half a million pounds in used fivers in a suitcase, took it out into the woods, and burnt it in a bonfire. There wasn't any good reason for doing this - in much the same way as there isn't any good reason for much of Liebour's 'public spending' - but I did it anyway.

Then I did the same thing the next day. And the next. And the next. Every day of every week of every month of every year since the day that Queen Victoria died I have been burning half a million pounds in used fivers in a suitcase in a bonfire in the woods.

And I'm still not at twenty billion. I've still got nearly two years to go.

That's the sum of taxpayers' money that Liebour have spunked down the drain on one single foul-up in one single Department. If you're genuinely stupid enough to want them to carry on, then use your own money. Give them all of it. Tell them they can spend it on whatever they like.

They'll be delighted. - Cloutman

Monday, 15 September 2008

Video Of The Week (37)

Video of the Week 09/09-15/09: Bill Gates Does Comedy

This week's video of the week once again comes from the US of A, but you may be relieved to hear that it does not feature any politicians or pundits. Instead, as unlikely as it might sound, it features none other than the richest nerd in the world, alongside Jerry Seinfeld...

Sunday, 14 September 2008

What The Democrats Ought To Do

Whenever I see official Democrat 'I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message' campaign adverts, I am left cold. They are weak, overly wordy, and sound like they are aimed at pundits in the New York Times rather than Mr & Mrs Floating Voter.

The narrative of the election is running away from Obama, the introduction of Sarah Palin has moved the goalposts, and as John Demetriou and I discussed separately last week the Republicans look for all the world like winning a third term come November.

The events of Thursday have, however, given rise to the thought that there could be a way back for the Democrats. An opportunity has arisen, but to take it would seem to go against every instinct of the Obama team. It would require the very opposite of the dry, leaden, economy-centred campaigning of the past couple of months.

What the Democrats must do, if they actually want to win, is to make this election a referendum on war; catastrophic war.

Forget the economy
- people don't have faith in Obama because of his lack of experience, and will vote for the 'devil they know' - also, the Obama = socialist meme is too strong to overcome.
Forget prattling on about lobbyists - only pundits and politicos give a shit, this will go in one ear and out of the other.
Forget 'McSame' - again, better the devil you know and all that, compared to an inexperienced wild-card candidate like Obama.

On the other hand, nuclear war and the draft... Everyone gets it, hardly anyone wants it (and anyone who does wouldn't vote Democrat in a million years)...


Here is an outline of the advert that the Democrats must run if they actually want to win this election and save us from McCain/Palin.

CLIP FROM CHARLIE GIBSON INTERVIEW: Gibson - (...war with Russia...) Palin - "Perhaps so"

ECHOES: "Perhaps so... Perhaps so... Perhaps so..."

VOICEOVER: "Sarah Palin didn't think twice before advocating that the US go to war with Russia.
That's Russia. A country with over 6,000 active nuclear warheads in its arsenal."

CLIP FROM 05/08/07 DEBATE: McCain: "it's naive to say that we will never use nuclear weapons."

ECHOES: "Nuclear weapons... Nuclear weapons... Nuclear weapons..." (show mushroom cloud)

VOICEOVER: "...Even if it doesn't come to that..."

MUSIC (Status Quo - In The Army Now): On-screen war imagery (Iraq War and the Cold War) and text relating to the draft that would undoubtedly be necessary were the US to go to war with Russia over Georgia.
Scare the young with the prospect of the draft, the older with echoes of the Cold War, and everyone with the prospect of nuclear annihilation!

The association in people's minds come November 4 has to be: McCain/Palin = Catastrophic War and the Draft

If the Democrats fail to do this or something very much like it, they will lose the election - and only have themselves to blame.

UPDATE: "A vote for [McCain] is a vote for the draft" - Jon Soltz, VoteVets.org

UPDATE (15/09): Developments since this post was originally written mean that 'forget the economy' (in campaign ads) is no longer a defensible course of action for the Democrats. This does not mean that preventing catastrophic war should not be the primary theme of the campaign, however.

This post adapted from comment originally published here

Seen Elsewhere (16)

A fairly quick one this week - for full Blogpower round-up, peruse Heather Yaxley's work over at Defending The Blog...

  • Best post I have seen this week by some distance does in fact come from a Blogpower blogger, specifically Fake Consultant's excellent Advice on Preaching Beyond The Choir in the context of the US election.

  • Perhaps not the question that would most immediately come to mind, but how much is the XL collapse costing the taxpayer? Why should it?

  • Sardonic commentary on the other 'LHC switch-on', answering fundamental questions like 'can there be an end to boom & bust'?

  • The US election will undoubtedly be damn close once again. Here is some commentary on an article entitled '12 reasons why Obama will still win'. Here one very good new libertarian blogger explains why McCain "will, without doubt, win" and then explains why "we are all fucked" when he does.

  • Staying with the US election, here's an intriguing perspective on the effect of McCain's election on US relations with Israel.

  • This post (NSFW) on strip clubs gets a link for its title alone

  • A libertarian Lib Dem on Nick Clegg's tax cuts.

  • Its Brown trousers time for, er, Brown as the Labour rebellion gathers strength. One Labour blogger, however, isn't quite singing from the same song-sheet as the rest of us!

  • A report from a left perspective on the threats to civil liberties posed by the European Union.

  • The decision of a Maidstone jury to acquit the 'Kingsnorth six'. Applauded here and here, condemned here, here, here and here.

  • After getting through all of those, you probably need a stiff drink. Time for the 'Littlejohn Drinking Game'!

Friday, 12 September 2008

Palin: War With Russia? Perhaps

From Sarah Palin's first TV interview as VP candidate, with Charlie Gibson of ABC News (bolding mine):

GIBSON: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

PALIN: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you’re going to be expected to be called upon and help.

Commentary from Daily Kos, and D.C gossip blog Wonkette:
...When you’re asked in an interview under any circumstances whether we’ll have to go to War with Russia, you should never respond “Perhaps so,” BECAUSE WAR WITH RUSSIA WOULD BE THE WORST THING IMAGINABLE.

You don't say! Really? For fuck's sake...


MORE: John Demetriou; The Daily (Maybe)

Here is an (edited) YouTube video showing Palin making the remarks discussed in this post.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Quote of the Day

Jury Trial: This quote of Richard Dawkins' is apt:

"…Should I be charged with a serious crime here’s how I want to be tried. If I know myself to be guilty, I’ll go with the loose cannon of a jury, the more ignorant, prejudiced and capricious the better. But if I am innocent, and the ideal of multiple independent decision-takers is unavailable, please give me a judge" - Richard Dawkins

The Solution To The Irish Problem

Make them vote again.

Contemptuous some?

H/T: Tim Worstall

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Lawful Excuse

Criminal damage is OK, apparently, if it's for a good cause.

That's the upshot of the verdict delivered by a jury at Maidstone Crown Court yesterday. They acquitted 6 men & women who caused £30,000 of damage to an industrial facility in Medway, Kent last October.

The 6 were, of course, climate activists, protesting the coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth. Their defence - assisted by James Hansen, an alarmist who has previously called for energy company executives to be put on trial - claimed that their actions had "saved £1 million worth of damage to the environment".

"These defendants did not climb the Kingsnorth chimney for fun. The painted message was an SOS - the future of the planet is in real and immediate danger. Their acquittal must make the government change their policy on coal production." - Michael Wolkind, defending QC

Sam Tarran, responding to this decision, suggests that an acquittal of 6 people caught red-handed on such grounds makes something of a mockery of the rule of law as most people understand it. I am inclined to agree with him - It certainly sets a remarkable precedent.


UPDATE (11/09): Vindico (of Cynical Snippets) gets it:

Property rights, people? No? Ever head of them? How about I come round our house and key your car? That would be funny, wouldn't it. After all, you are killing babies with your Mondeo and causing global warming.

The jury ought to be strung up from lampposts, along with the crims they threw back into the sea, so we can point and throw rotten f***ing turnips at their dipshit faces.

In Praise Of Our Paralympians

It would not be hard to be a reasonably avid follower of current affairs and yet be completely unaware that a) the Paralympics are currently taking place in Beijing and b) at the time of writing Team GB are currently second in the medal table - ahead of the United States - with an incredible 21 gold medals.

So derisory has been the media coverage - as commented upon by Benedict at A Conservative's Blog - that, despite some extraordinary achievements, none of the athletes have been highlighted as Brits of whom we can all be proud.

Here is (as far as I can tell) our full list of Paralympic winners from the first 5 days of the Games (some of the golds are from team events, so the numbers here do not correspond to the number in the medal table):

  • Mark Bristow - Cycling (x2)
  • Jody Cundy - Cycling (x2)
  • Ellen Hunter - Cycling (x2)
  • Danny Kenny - Cycling (x3)
  • Anthony Kappes - Cycling (x2)
  • Aileen McGlynn - Cycling (x2)
  • Simon Richardson - Cycling (x2)
  • Barney Storey - Cycling (x2)
  • Sarah Storey - Cycling
  • Graham Edmunds - Swimming
  • Heather Frederiksen - Swimming
  • Sascha Kindred - Swimming (x2)
  • David Roberts - Swimming (x2)
  • Roger Welbourn - Swimming
  • Eleanor Simmonds - Swimming
  • Matt Walker - Swimming
  • Sophie Christiansen - Equestrian
  • Anne Dunham - Equestrian (x2)
  • Simon Laurens - Equestrian
  • Lee Pearson - Equestrian (x3)

Lipstick On A Pig



This clip, from a Barack Obama campaign rally in Virginia, has led to Republican accusations of misogyny.

Here is the Democrats' robust response:

"The McCain campaign's attack tonight is a pathetic attempt to play the gender card about the use of a common analogy - the same analogy that Senator McCain himself used about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's health care plan just last year," she continued. "This phony lecture on gender sensitivity is the height of cynicism and lays bare the increasingly dishonorable campaign John McCain has chosen to run."

Will the Republican condemnation stick to Obama, or will it lead to more airtime being given to the accusation Obama was making, i.e. that behind the glamour of McCain/Palin lies the same old GOP?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Rules of Engagement

CentreRight (at Conservative Home) has an interesting 'blogging about blogging' post by Peter Cuthbertson, responding to the launch of, er, CentreLeft - A new left blog that promises to "challenge and correct" Conservative bloggers.

I wouldn't have worded my criticisms as he has. "...For all that oppositional mentality...there is very little evidence of any effort to engage with conservative ideas" complains Cuthbertson, but to anyone who is not hopelessly partisan this is as true (replacing "conservative" with "left-wing", "liberal" or "socialist" as appropriate) of many of the most prominent right-wing blogs as it is of the leftists he is attacking.

Of course, to some extent the worth of this statement depends on his definition of "engage". Cuthbertson later clarifies "not many attempt to argue with the ideas expressed in their own terms". This can be because the terms themselves are so loaded that it is impossible to engage with them without disputing the issue itself during the process of trying to reach a sensible, mutually acceptable definition.

Cuthbertson discusses this problem later in his post, where he remarks on a leftist "Orwellian obsession with ‘framing’ the debate with the right language". Rightists do it too - consider for instance the insinuations contained within that term beloved of the social conservative right, "pro-life". Certain leftists do, however, seem to make a speciality of it.

I encountered this a few weeks ago when I butted heads with John Band in an immigration thread at Comment Is Free. There John defined "racism" in such a way that anyone who supports border controls is 'racist'. His use of this powerful term in this way implies that all of the mainstream political parties are 'racist'. Here the terms in which his ideas are expressed were the debate. I don't have a problem with people who oppose immigration controls. I most certainly do have a problem with people who oppose immigration controls and try to smear me as a 'racist' for not agreeing with them!

Here I have used an example of being unable to engage, as defined, with an idea of a leftist, however it doesn't take much imagination to come up with similar examples that might come from commentators/bloggers of a right-wing hue. Although I just about consider myself to be (on the moderate wing) of the right-wing blogosphere, the replacement of real debate with glib slurs of the 'ZaNuLab' variety is regrettably commonplace.

On some topics, such as ID cards, the argument is remarkably one sided in the blogosphere (only one infrequent blogger, Citizen Andreas, is to my knowledge in favour of the Government ID scheme), yet the battle is not being won out in the real world. It should not be surprising that libertarian bloggers are frustrated and angry, and this frustration is manifested in the form of swearblogs. There is a certain attitude apparent on both sides of the divide that their views are obviously the correct ones and if only people would read them and take them in... This is a mindset that is commonly associated with socialists, but libertarians and conservatives do it as well.

So, in conclusion much of what Peter Cuthbertson has said is quite right - but when making sweeping statements about right and left, one ought to keep in mind a saying about a pot and kettle.

Slip Sliding Away

John Demetriou (of Boatang & Demetriou) here backs up, with rather more conviction than I dared put in, the line of thought with regard to the betting on the US Presidential Race that I outlined a couple of weeks ago.

I wrote that before John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate, a shock development which at the time looked like a wild gamble on his part; in American sporting terminology, a "Hail Mary pass".

My initial reaction to the selection was that it would benefit the Democrats, citing Palin's lack of experience and extreme social views. Ten days later, and I don't think I could have been more wrong. Democrat supporters have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at Palin. It has failed to bring her down, and has perhaps been counterproductive, since it has been so easy for the Republicans to interpret their attacks as attacks on the ordinary American.

Palin doesn't just go to bat for the Republicans' conservative base. She is one of the Republicans' conservative base. This isn't just "someone [the undecided voter] would prefer to have a beer with", as in 2004. This is "[the undecided voter] made good". The 'Hail Mary pass' is looking increasingly like a masterstroke, which the Democrats did not anticipate and are going to struggle mightily to counter.

Demetriou writes in his betting post:

I will set out my stall right here, and absolutely state without doubt that Obama will lose. Come and insult me and lob tomatoes and rotten veg at me if I’m proved wrong come November.

I am now inclined to agree with him. Two weeks ago, although I thought the odds on McCain (7-4 against) were too long, on balance I still thought Obama just about the likeliest winner of another close election, and so I did not risk any money. The arrival of Palin onto the scene has tipped the balance by giving the religious right and social conservatives confidence in the GOP ticket where it was lacking before.

Demetriou gives 4 reasons for believing that Obama will lose come November - None of which, incidentally, reference Sarah Palin except perhaps indirectly. I cannot see a way to completely refute any of them. Race will undoubtedly be a factor, eager as some liberals are to wish it away, although it is worth pointing out that to some extent it works both ways (see for instance this article). The "safe bet" or 'better the devil you know' factor is another that works in McCain's favour, particularly in this time of economic uncertainty. It is something of an irony that this may give the GOP the push they need to win this election.

The title of this post was inspired by the Paul Simon song, whose lyric runs "the nearer your destination, the more you're slip sliding away". If only the election had been any time between the withdrawal of Hillary Clinton from the candidacy race in June and the present moment, the Democrats would surely have overcame. Unfortunately there is still another two months to run, and right now the Democrats can't seem to win whatever they do. If they stick to the issues and keep it clean, as Obama clearly hoped to do in the beginning, they appear weak and look for all the world like repeating John Kerry's 2004 failure. If they go on the attack, particularly against Palin, they are painted as nasty bullies, kicking a personification of the same people they are hoping will go and vote for them in November.

I'm a pessimistic Obama supporter right now. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I'm standing next to Mr Demetriou unless something dramatic happens to change the race once again. If something doesn't transpire, the polls are going in only one direction from here on out, and the Democrats have blown it again.


Monday, 8 September 2008

Video Of The Week (36)

Video of the Week 02/09 - 08/09: The Wrong Palin

Just what the rather earnest debates on the merits or otherwise of John McCain's choice of running mate need - a bit of Monty Python.

H/T: Samizdata

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Seen Elsewhere (15)

Cross-posted from Blogpower: Defending The Blog

As the saying goes, if it weren't for the weather the British would be left with nothing to talk about. This is seldom more apparent than when the skies are grey and going outside leaves you soaking wet. Guthrum raises the subject of flood defences, while more prosaically Liz regrets going out without a coat.

Fortunately the saying isn't entirely true, or this would be a short roundup indeed. There is political polemic from a British libertarian perspective this week from The Last Ditch: Stop trying to make an omelette with a JCB! Until we stop imploring the state to 'do something', QUANGOs will never be uprooted (Pub Philosopher). Also on a related note, here is The Tin Drummer on why people with nothing to hide can still have everything to fear.

British party politics: Parliament may be on holiday, but the partisan bloggers are not. Norfolk Blogger finds some common ground between the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. Mike Ion imagines giving this speech to the upcoming Labour conference. Andrew Allison makes a Tory pitch for UKIP supporters. Cornish Democrat takes a Toynbee-esque line on 'fuel poverty' with the help of a press release from the Celtic League. Mutley follows a similar line in a post simply entitled 'Poverty'. Bob Piper slams Charles Clarke, while Bel slams just about every other Labour MP. Letters From A Tory has the funniest political poster I've seen all year.

An Insomniac makes an argument for religious education in schools; Matt Wardman in defence of Carol Ann Duffy. Lady MacLeod discusses the arrival of Ramadan, as did Gordon Brown - Guthrum wasn't impressed! Heather Yaxley comments on a PR stunt that courted controversy and gained maximum publicity for Electronic Arts in London.

Blogging about the 'blogosphere' is something of an indulgence, but sometimes the temptation is irresistible. Iain Dale's lists always generate this type of post, exemplified by Miss Wagstaff's series covering every Welsh blog to have made the charts. Blogger feuds, too. Ian_QT called out serial feuder Tim Ireland this week, while Calum Carr hit out at Donal Blaney. Devonshire Dumpling has information for all of the bloggers using Sitemeter to track their stats. CityUnslicker discusses the entry into the browser market of Google's 'Chrome'; Grendel suggests that it might help you make better coffee (in a metaphorical kind of way)

One topic that will continue to dominate the political blogging world for another couple of months is the US Presidential Race. Although we Brits cannot influence it (not that this hasn't stopped some trying), The outcome undoubtedly have a great influence on the whole world. The Blogpower members are split fairly evenly between supporters of McCain (e.g. Theo Spark, who reproduces some Republican cartoons here) and Obama (e.g. Ordovicius). This week has seen the arrival on the scene of Sarah Palin, McCain's surprise VP pick. Hercules, Paulie and Colin Campbell give 3 very different perspectives on how she could shift the conversation surrounding the race. Sackerson comments on the responses of female commentators to Sarah Palin's arrival. Finally, US Democrat supporter Fake Consultant introduces the Sarah Palin drinking game.

The Paralympics started yesterday: the Thunder Dragon anticipates some tremendous sporting achievements and another great performance from Team GB. Newcastle United fans, on the other hand, anticipate a long, fraught season ahead after the departure of Kevin Keegan - Benedict comments on the reporting which may have contributed to the farcical events of last week at St James's Park. Welshcakes Limoncello describes her experience with an activity of a rather less prestigious kind: DIY. Chervil has a handy tip for urban gardeners, and MuseInMeltdown talks socks.

The picture at the head of this week's Roundup is one that will have all the Brits green with envy. It was provided by JMB's blog 'Nobody Important' - She was out walking in West Vancouver this week.

Blogpower's newest member David Hadley has an amusing satirical post on postmodernism. Crushed ponders the meaning of 'single'; Alex ponders the meaning of life, with the help of some TLAs (three-letter acronyms).

Finally, my choice for post of the week this time around is from the very last blog on the blogroll- that of Gracchii (at Westminster Wisdom) - who discusses a fascinating insight into the mind of a tyrant.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

DK On UKIP

I've been and will continue to be a little too busy to blog properly this weekend, and I'm doing the Blogpower round-up tomorrow.

But it's well worth pointing you in the direction of this very interesting post over at the Devil's Kitchen on the situation in the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Tim Worstall has been at the UKIP conference this week, and has posted on some of the more notable developments in snippet form. However, the bigger picture and background to the party's current situation is summarised from a handy distance from the party by DK.

DK was formerly a member of UKIP before leaving to help set up the new UK Libertarian Party around the turn of the year. He links the current 'infighting' between libertarians and nationalist conservatives, as reported by today's Independent, to his own decision to leave the party.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

12 Months On...

Here's a reminder of where we were around this time last year, courtesy of the Liberal Democrats...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Straight In At Number 71

After less than a year of blogging, Question That has cemented its place in the British blogosphere by being voted 71st in the Total Politics Top 100 Right-of-Centre blogs for 2007-08.

I also sneaked into the overall top 200 - QT finds itself at #199 in that chart.

Roll on 2008-09!

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Grow Up, Ireland

Tim Ireland, that is. Could that man possibly get any more pathetic in his vindictiveness against Iain Dale?

Well, possibly. But I hope not. Ireland's latest hissy-fit, regarding the inclusion of his blog Bloggerheads in the Top 100 Left-of-Centre Blogs, takes the biscuit. He really seems to think that the British blogosphere is his; things ought to work according to his rules.

It's only the latest in his string of swipes at right-wing bloggers he is engaged in a seemingly interminable 'blog-war' with. I'm sure once upon a time there was a point, but from where I'm standing that has long since been lost amid the pettiness.


Usually I and others let it pass without comment, perhaps at least in part in an attempt to avoid giving his stunts more attention than they deserve.

This time, however, I am of the opinion he has gone too far for that. Because, believe it or not, Tim has threatened to call in the lawyers on Dale:

"Yes, but you know my views on people compelling someone to use a lawyer when all that's required is a reasonable level of courtesy and cooperation. I may go there if I have no choice" - Tim Ireland*
Over, remember, the inclusion of his blog in a list of top blogs. Utterly ridiculous.


Here is the correct answer to Tim's laughable complaint, provided by one of the commenters at Iain Dale's Diary:
I don't understand all this "I don't want to take part" malarkey.

Utter bally tosh. Your blogs are in the public domain so they can get commented on and voted for without your consent or approval.

Do the bloggers in question ask the subjects of their ire whether or not they "want to take part"? Would they give a blind tinker's cuss either way?


* It's the second comment on the linked post - you can't link directly to comments on Bloggerheads.

-> Note that there are no references to any form of mental illness whatsoever in this post. Not that complaints about same aren't a little odd coming from someone who blogs using the handle 'Manic'.

Can't Stand You Now

IMAGE: Daily Mirror

*** This post discusses an ongoing saga - see update ***

One day after the transfer deadline, and just 3 days into the new season, Newcastle United's boss has become its first Premiership managerial casualty.

The more things change, the more things stay the same, you might conclude. Newcastle have got through 7 managers in their 15 years in the top division, including such unloved characters as Ruud Gullit, Graeme Souness and Sam Allardyce.

This time, though, it's different. For once, for the first time in many years, the fans are on the departing manager's side, and not only that, the man concerned is none other than NUFC legend Kevin Keegan, who sensationally returned to the club in January delighting many of Newcastle's famously fanatical supporters.

Results improved following Keegan's appointment, and this season started strongly with an excellent result in the first match, a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. However, James Milner - one of our best players in that game - was sold to Aston Villa seemingly contrary to the wishes of the manager, and Newcastle's failure to replace him appears to have been the last straw.

It is not yet clear whether Keegan resigned or was sacked in the end, but one thing is for sure - Newcastle fans (myself included) are not at all happy right now, and it is clear who is to blame.

Only 3 days ago, NUFC owner Mike Ashley was sitting in the stands at the Emirates Stadium watching the match, downing a pint and wearing a Newcastle shirt emblazoned with 'King Kev 1'.

It's a good bet he won't be doing that again anytime soon...

UPDATE (19:14): As this post was being written, a statement has been released by Newcastle United, stating that Kevin Keegan has not been sacked, and that the board "want him to continue to play an instrumental role as manager".

As of 00:00 (03/09), the situation is still one of confusion over who exactly is managing Newcastle United FC from this point forwards.


UPDATE (04/09): A full two days after the story of Keegan's parting company with Newcastle first broke, his future at the club is still hanging in the balance with "talks" ongoing according to the BBC News latest.

Many Betfair bettors were stung yesterday, after having bet on Keegan to be the first Premiership manager to depart his club at odds as short as 1-3 (three to one on). Alan Curbishley's shock resignation at West Ham meant that they all lost their money.


UPDATE (05/09): Kevin Keegan has now resigned as manager of Newcastle United.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Video Of The Week (35)

Video of the Week 26/08 - 01/09: Foreign Policy Experience

Sticking with the Sarah Palin theme just a little longer: You'll never guess what it is that Cindy McCain thinks gives Palin 'national security experience'!



Hat-tip: Mr Eugenides

Bizarre Sarah Palin Rumour

A strange rumour regarding John McCain's running-mate, Sarah Palin, has begun doing the rounds in the US blogosphere.

According to a blogger at Daily Kos, Trig Palin - her youngest child - is not her child at all, but her then 16-year-old daughter Bristol's!

ArcXIX cites the lack of visible changes to her shape during the time she was supposed to be pregnant, and the reverse in the case of Bristol; the fact that Trig was supposedly born after Sarah went into labour during an 8-hour flight before which her "waters broke"; and Bristol's 8-month absence from school around the same time.

The story has since been picked up by mainstream media in the US (with the caveat that it is, as things stand, only a rumour).


UPDATE (01/09): A statement has been released by the Republicans revealing that Bristol is currently 5 months pregnant, a rumour initially denied by Palin's press secretary (Huffington Post).