Left Outside

Lovely Wuverly Fluffy Compassionate Conservatism

David Cameron is walking a tight rope between shedding the “nasty party” image while still holding on to the nasty bastards who only vote Tory for that reason.

So it shouldn’t be too surprising that lovely wuverly fluffy compassionate Conservative David Cameron said something so boneheaded on burglary in the wake of the jailing and subsequent release of Munir Hussein.

The moment a burglar steps over your threshold, and invades your property, with all the threat that gives to you, your family and your livelihood, I think they leave their human rights outside

At the time Sunny Hundal argued that he thought the law stood fine as it was but sympathised with Conservative attempts to strengthen it in favour of householders who have their house broken into. Ultimately he supported his friend’s mantra ‘If you don’t want your ass kicked then don’t break into my house.’

Luckily for Mr Hundal, his friend and all of us there is no human right which prevents your arse getting kicked if you break into someone’s house.

Now whether or not there is a human right to not be tortured is a not matter for debate. The idea that you can forsake this right for entering someone’s house is not on the table either. We would in theory give legal privilege to the sort of vile crimes Claude described last week, and no civilised society should do that.

Human rights are not conditional and this is why your arse is not sacred and it is why talk of having them “left outside” is so ridiculous. But bless those devoted Tweeters that try to stay on message – they only end up slipping to Reductio ad absurdum.

Perhaps it is cruel to focus on Nadine Dorries – perhaps she is a fish and the barrel is rational debate – but she is a well supported and popular MP and this is the shallow level on which she wants to discuss law and order.

How the Tories maintain their grip on that issue is beyond me.

Filed under: Blogging, Society

I’m Seismic Shock

Courtesy of Modernity Blog this video is intended to highlight how inappropriate it was for a blogger to be visited by the British Police and intimidate him into deleting one of his blogs.

You can read what happened to Seismic Shock here. As ModBlog says please embed this video on your own blog, if you want to spread the news of Rev Sizer’s behaviour.

Filed under: Blogging, Politics, Society

Coercing Saddam and lessons for Iran

There are two ways to force someone to do something they don’t want.

You can use violence to make them do that thing, or you can credibly threaten violence on them. For this post, we must assume Meatloaf would do “that” if coerced violently or with the threat of violence.

In modern international relations the latter is usually preferred. But soft coercion did not work in 2003 despite the overwhelming military superiority that the US military had over the Iraqi forces.

Defining “work” is of course difficult. In March 2003 on the eve of war, Saddam remained belligerent, he continued to deny full UN access to his now obviously non-existent weapon’s facilities.

I suppose, we can inadequately define work as the supplication of Saddam to the will of the international community.

Saddam did not back down and this poses problems for people who think that people are rational. His conduct appears to reinforce the image of him as a psychopath.

However, the above formulation misses something important. Saddam’s belligerence was not irrational. The capacity to threaten violence is only available if you also have the capacity to refrain from violence.

Leading up to the war the bellicose pronouncements of those working in Bush’s regime and the man himself made it seem that war with Iraq was inevitable.

Saddam calculated that the US had “lost” the ability to refrain from violence. He  believed that if he submitted himself to all the demands of the US he would still not be able to avoid war.

This meant the US had lost the ability to coerce him with the threat of violence and the march to war became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Iran sadly springs to mind at this moment. It is clear that the world would be a better place with almost any other regime sitting in Tehran and the US has made it abundantly clear it shares this view.

The fall of the Shah in Iran was clearly one of the worst foreign policy events for the US since the end of the second world war. But if influencing Iran is your aim then it is vital to learn this lesson from Iraq.

War may be the continuation of politics by other means but it must never be an aim in itself. Blair may claim that invading Iraq has lessened the threat from Iran, but if the war drums begin to beat in the same way some years from now Iran may reason that it cannot avoid a fight and plunge the middle easy into another unnecessary war.

Filed under: Foreign Affairs, History

Don’t talk to Frank

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the stance on the legality of recreational drugs that Left Outside has taken, and it is a view that I share.

The separation of drugs and politics is something that this country has never managed, and the problems that stem from the production, sale, and use of recreational drugs are not going to go away with the Government’s continued stubborn and misinformed approach to addressing this country’s drug “problem.”

The arguments for and against the prohibition of drugs is not something I’m going to address today. What I wish to address is a byproduct of this.

There exists a large pool of people who wish to experiment and who are less informed about their choices than they would be were drugs not illegal. By letting politics override science people are less able to make informed choices about how recreational drug use may affect them.

To illustrate this cast your eyes over an independently researched rankings table on 20 commonly used, legal and illegal substances based on factors such as dependency, physical harm and social harm; and refresh your memory by reading how the Government responds when science proves a political decision to be wrong.

A major result of this politics vs. science face off has been the recent demise of MDMA – the chemical compound used to make ecstasy pills, but in recent years, more commonly sold as a powder. The ‘word on the street’ is that control over the import of piperonylmethylketone (PMK) – A synthesized oil from the bark of the sassafras tree used as the raw material for MDMA in key rainforest regions in south-east Asia has left a lot of demand unsatisfied and caused the rise of other experimental drugs to try and fill the void.

Without spending too much time questioning the reasoning for demonizing one of the less harmful recreational drugs (other than to draw your attention to “this slightly dated study from 2000”,  and “Professor Nutt’s comments about ecstasy being less dangerous than horse riding”), I can’t help but wonder what they’re trying to achieve.

If they were really trying to “protect” the public, easily available purity testing machines for ecstasy pills would be commonplace in clubs, stories about ecstasy related deaths would have focused on how factors such as over-hydration were causing them rather than the effects of the chemical itself, and more research into experimental drugs that are becoming more widespread would be invested, rather than to demonize and illegalise them straight away.

The newest name on the scene is Mephedrone. Legally sold on many websites as a “plant food” and marked “not fit for human consumption” it can be ordered, sent via recorded delivery and consumed, legally and hassle free in a matter of a couple of days. The rise of this new drug, coupled with the demise of MDMA has lead to a huge surge in popularity before much is known about this new phenomenon.

Although it has hit the headlines with negative press, and it seems attempts to criminalize the substance are being rushed through as quickly as possible, the demand doesn’t seem to be slowing down. A point addressed by the self-proclaimed “world’s biggest dance music and clubbing magazine,” Mixmag in their interesting recent survey of drug-taking habits amongst their readers, who arguably form one of the largest pools of recreational drug users in the country.

The tagline given to Mephedrone is “The UK’s favourite new drug.” Acknowledging the issue of how little research has been done it aims to bring a bit more information to the people who are likely to be using it by taking an impartial and honest approach to reporting the results. Government advisor Les Iversen, indicating that there is “no data on toxicity that I could find,” meaning Mephedrone users have no guidance on correct dosage or safety, so surveys like this serve a real  purpose.

It understands that people are likely take it regardless of any scaremongering and that the best approach to ensure the safety of potential users is to provide them with the information to make an informed decision, not to belittle them with inaccurate scaremongering tactics – a stance that Government Ministers could learn from!

Mixmag’s results are as follows (I have tried in vain to find out how many participants were involved in the survey, but have resigned myself to taking comfort in the fact that it describes itself as the biggest survey of young people’s drug-taking habits in the world):

  • Of participants in the survey, 41.7% have tried Mephedrone, 33.6% in the previous month.
  • Of those users, 44% took Mephedrone no more than once every three months, but 14.5% used it at least weekly
  • The most common usage was between ½ and 1 gram in a session.

In researching the potentially harmful physical effects, the survey ascertained that amongst users:

  • 67% felt excessive sweating
  • 51% felt headaches
  • 43% experienced palpitations
  • 27% experienced nausea
  • 15% experienced cold or blue fingers

(For further results on other recreational drugs, flick through the issue next time you pass a WH Smiths – its luminous yellow front cover is quite hard to miss!)

By providing commendable, impartial results from people who have actually taken the drug we are able to receive a greater picture of its effects. By targeting a community with less of a stigma relating to recreational drugs use we are also able to get a more honest and accurate representation of the drugs and their effects.

If the British Government really wishes to “protect” potential drug users and eradicate the criminal issues resulting from the production and sale of illicit substances, then this surely has to be the best approach. I am not in a position to condone the safety of Mephedrone, as there is a clear lack of research regarding it. But to prohibit it before this research has been done would not offer any protection to potential users.

The rise (and likely fall) of Mephedrone may open the door to potentially more harmful research chemicals being taken recreationally. Butylone, Methylone and Methyltryptamine are all chemicals we know very little of but in the absence of Mephedrone, could also rise to prominence. We can go on banning forever, but new drugs will go one popping up like mushrooms.

Rather than condescending approaches such as the advertising campaign of Talk to Frank, which subtly demonizes drug use, more attention needs to be drawn to resources such as this Mixmag study, and websites such as the excellent Erowid who are willing to inform and educate the majority of people who want to know how certain chemicals may affect their body and state of mind.

If access to such information is denied for political purposes as opposed to health and social purposes, then we will continue to see high-profile deaths and further dangers to potential users. It is only when the policy makers decide that scaremongering, demonization and a constant barrage of propaganda doesn’t work on the majority of people who may chose to experiment with recreational drugs.

The public deserves honest and impartial advice regarding these substances so that any issues resulting from drug use can begin to be addressed, and a progressive, accurate and honest approach to the dangers of drugs can begin to be made.

Filed under: Politics, Science, Society

I’ve just read James Dellingpole for the first time: He is clearly insane

Wow, I mean just wow.

I’ve recently been blogging on blogging  anonymously and one of my defences for doing so is that I was not one of those unpleasant people on the internet. I think I’m a fairly pleasant guy.

I do not use the internet to harass, bully or attack without provocation neither do I act like what is colloquially known round my way as “a prick” as I feel its not fair to do so from behind a veil of anonymity.

I assume James Dellingpole feels the same, of course rather than refrain from behaving reprehensibly, he just publishes under his own name and behaves abominably.

Yesterday I read Unity’s evisceration of Dellingpole’s recent behaviour which was brought to all of our attention by George Monbiot.

On Sunday Dellingpole published an e-mail which had been received from a Tory PPC from a constituent.

This appeared to be a normal cut and paste job which MPs and PPCs must receive in large numbers but which still represent their constituent’s concerns. Nothing controversial here, a little inconveniencing, but then they are/want to be our MPs.

This missive concerned climate change, something which should strike most as a subject which it is eminently sensible for future MPs to be quizzed on. However Dellingpole sees it as…

…an orchestrated campaign by a green pressure group to get sympathetic individuals in over 200 constituencies to send letters to their local Tory candidate testing him on his environmental correctness.

I called this “eco-bullying” and “stalking”, as I believe it is. Of course free individuals are perfectly entitled to write to their prospective parliamentary candidate on whatever subject they wish. I have no objection to that. What I do very much object to is concerted campaigns by pressure groups. Since my moles at Tory HQ tell me lots of very similar letters to the one I quoted were received by Tory candidates all over Britain, using similar phrasing, I don’t think this was an accident.

As I said, wow.

On Sunday, Dellingpole then went on to publish the e-mail that he had been passed including the senders name and home address.

This not only massively unprofessional, it is borderline criminal. It is also a huge encroachment on someone’s reasonably expected confidential correspondence. When he was called out by George Monbiot this is how he responded.

George Monbiot is cwoss. Weally, WEALLY cwoss. And I don’t blame him one bit. God it must be an awful thing when you’ve squandered half your career acting as cheerleader for a cause which, on closer examination, turns out to have been a complete load of cobblers…

Again, wow.

Dellingpole pulled the piece when it was obvious he and Edwin Northover – the PPC in question – would have some serious questions to answer.

In today’s post he “graciously” says that he is  “sincerely, totally and unreservedly sorry”.

In the same post, quoted above, he called the same man he was apologising to an eco-bully and stalker.

Once again, wow.

Perhaps he really is sorry. I’ll let you judge his level of contrition with a screengrab of the “tags” for the story.

Wow…

(Hat Tipped to eagle eyed tweeter Tim Ireland)

Filed under: Blogging, Science, Society, The Media

Linky Love: 28th January 2010

1) Unity uncovers exactly how unpleasant James Dellingpole (and possibly Tory PCC Edwin Northover) is:

On Sunday, Delingpole posted this on his blog at the Telegraph:

The Warmists are looking increasingly foolish and wrong. But they aren’t going to go down without a fight. Consider, Exhibit A, this nauseating email currently being sent out to Conservative candidates. It seems that in the last week a couple of hundred Tory candidates have received variations on the theme below. Note that these emails do not come from a named organisation but from individual voters in each of the different prospective parliamentary candidates’ constituencies.

The text of the email in question, which he also posted, goes like this… Not only does that look to be a perfectly polite and reasonable enquiry but it looks, to me at least, very much like the kind of  simple fill-in-the-blanks form email that’s pretty much a staple tool of internet-based campaigning.

In other words, it about as far from ’stalking’ – the term Delingpole used in the title of his post – as its possible to get.

From here, I’ll let Monbiot pick up the story:

It looks to me like a polite enquiry from someone concerned about climate change. Delingpole, however, saw it as a “nauseating email” which must have come from a “disgusting eco-fascist organisation”, though he didn’t know which organisation this might be. His post was headlined “Conservative candidates stalked by eco bullies”. Much worse, he published the man’s name and home address.

[...]

One commenter wrote: “I tried to telephone *** *** on the number helpfully posted in this blog, but he’s out until tomorrow. Perhaps he is out ‘tackling climate change’? – anyway his missus didn’t seem to know where he was.”

2) Paul Cotterill compares the most recent Labour and Tory recessions:

Here’s the ONS graph showing three different recessions:

And here’s the ONS graph showing unemployment rates over the same time elapses:

Taken together these show that under the Tories in the 1980s unemployment went on rising for a further 4 and a half years AFTER the end of recession (in fact Chris Huhne said it rose for six years, so he may be using different data, but the point is the same).

This time around, the unemployment rate has already started to fall, though of course it may rise again (and the growth of part-time employment has also helped.

But why did this continued rise happen under the Tories? Well…

3) Hopi Sen asks if it is time to allow broadcasters to be biased:

In a world where free to view TV has three dedicated roulette channels showing each night, it cannot be argued that there are enormous barriers to entry to TV production.

Nor, can it be argued that only a few media operators can access the Radio or TV markets. There are currently 250 stations on DAB alone, with more available in different digital media to come. This is a world where almost anyone who can find an audience can run a station.

At the same time, changing media channels means it will soon be impossible for a national body to regulate people’s watching habits in any meaningful sense.

If I wanted to start “Socialist Workers Party Radio” once I had the production facilities and the marketing budget, all I am really waiting for is a way of reaching listeners that compares to traditional FM radio.  If Wi-Fi radio were to take off in any meaningful fashion, you’d be ready to go. All you’d be hoping for is that your audience would not be pitiful – and that’s your problem, not the government’s.

At the same time, if Rupert Murdoch wished to take Sky News down the route of Fox news (which is wildly profitable in a very competitive market), then I find it hard to argue that he should face restraints that don’t apply in either the print or internet media markets.

4) Will Straw exposes Ken Clarke’s attempt to rewrite history:

On Channel 4 News last night, Ken Clarke categorically denied that he had ever called for a VAT cut. But Left Foot Forward can this morning reveal that in the autumn of 2008, Clarke called repeatedly for a VAT cut before and after it was announced in the pre-Budget report by Alistair Darling.

[...]

On November 11, 2008, following an interview on BBC News, Clarke was quoted in his local paper, the Nottingham Evening Post, in an article titled “Clarke suggests VAT cut”:

[...]

Later that month in an interview to The Times, Clarke clearly calls for a VAT cut:

The Government should, he says, consider cutting VAT to 15 per cent in the Pre-Budget Report on Monday – an idea that is certainly not Tory party policy….

5) MacGuffin exposes another fake PC Gawn Maad story:

It was the lead story on the Mail website this morning:

Employer told not to post advert for ‘reliable’ workers because it discriminates against ‘unreliable’ applicants

[...]

It was on the front page of the Express and it also made the Star and Telegraph, although all four stories are suspiciously similar, with the same quotes in much the same order.

And as the first screenshot shows, the Mail story was gaining (unmoderated) comments by the hundred, almost all of them proclaiming it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’.

But is it? [I'll give this one away, the answer is no]

Employer told not to post advert for ‘reliable’ workers because it discriminates against ‘unreliable’ applicants

Filed under: Politics

Blogging Resources: Front Pages

Often around the blogosphere and t’interwebs you will see the day’s Newspaper Front Pages inserted into posts and pages.

I always wondered exactly where they came from because they add that special authenticity and immediacy that makes blogging so worthwhile.

After a brief exchange with MacGuffin of Tabloid Watch he informed me that Sky News always host the day’s Front Pages. This is a great resource and one I’ll be taking advantage of.

But the papers are uploaded under a different url each day. This means there is no one page to bookmark for ease of use. That is why I’ve made this.

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&tbo=1&tbs=qdr%3Ad&q=site%3Anews.sky.com+newspapers+front+pages&aq=f&aqi=&oq=

C’est très joli, non?

Like a tired old donkey its looks are unimportant because it is very useful. This asks google to search http://news.sky.com for “National Front Page” and then only display the last 24 hours of results.

Doing so know brings up some fluff further down, but pride of place at the top isa link to – I hope you’ll permit a ta-da! – The Front Pages for January 27th 2010.

I thought this might be useful for bloggers out there like me, who were in the dark until now.

What a proper paper looks like

PANIC! FURY! Someone is doing stuff. Probably Bad! This is what a shit paper looks like

Filed under: Blogging, The Media

Linky Love: 27th January 2010

1) The Scientific Fundamentalist – British Newspapers make things up (Hat Tip Ben Goldacre):

…Most British people consider the Times of London to be the most respectable “broadsheet” newspaper (as opposed to “tabloid” newspapers) in the UK, despite the fact that the Times, along with most British “broadsheet” newspapers, is now published in the tabloid size to make it easier for people to read it in crowded London subways.  Last week, the Sunday Times published an article with the headline “Blonde women born to be warrior princesses.”  The article reported that “Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a “warlike” streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way – the so-called “princess effect.””  The Times article quotes the evolutionary psychologist at the University of California – Santa Barbara, Aaron Sell, and his findings are purportedly published in his article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written with the two Deans of Modern Evolutionary Psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.

As it turns out, however, none of this is true, as Sell explains in his angry letter to the Times. He and his coauthors do not mention blondes at all in their paper and they don’t even have hair color in their data.  The supplementary analyses that Sell performed after the publication of the paper, as a personal favor to the Times reporter, show the exact opposite of what the Times article claims.  After he presumably listened to Sell explain all of this on the phone, the Times reporter nonetheless made up the whole thing, and attributed it to Sell…

2) Neil Robertson – Once more on the “Visible Poor”:

…If there is a ’social recession’, it is limited to members of a small, troubled, self-perpetuating group, which is neither reflective of the communities they blight nor the fault of one political party. It is a problem which has existed for generations and will probably persist generations from now: the only thing left to argue about is whether it’s gotten better or worse, and whether it can be solved.

But despite being unrepresentative of either the poor or the wider working class, cases such as the Edlington attacks are often the only time the media takes the time to report on poverty & deprivation. Prior to news of this attack, who can honestly say they had even heard of this small South Yorkshire town, let alone understood its character and problems? Prior to the kidnap of Shannon Matthews, who can honestly claim to have known where Dewsbury Moor was, or the demographics of the people living there? My own knowledge of Haringey is limited to the appalling crimes which happened there; I know nothing of the area or its people.

Because our view of these areas is restricted to its most infrequent but appalling crimes, we rarely take the time to examine the more generic, structural problems which exist. What’s the quality of the housing? How might the schools be improved? Do social workers have enough time to do justice to their clients? Where offending behaviour occurs, are there opportunities for community sentencing? Is there enough Early Intervention for parents who’re at risk? When your first introduction to a place makes you recoil in horror, these questions are rarely asked, and answers rarely sought.

The challenge, then, for people who campaign against poverty & inequality, is to humanise the problem; to demonstrate the struggles and champion the success stories which occur in these communities and – above all – give its residents a voice. Without that, we’ll just have to make do with a succession of bleak headlines which neither gives a true reflection of the communities in which they occurred, nor truly grapples with the causes.

One reason we think society is broken because parts of it remain invisible. That’s something we can – and must – seek to change.

3) In tandem with Neil’s Post Tom Freeman has written on the only way to end poverty:

We hate the poor. And we’re right to hate them.

We try to ignore them, and usually we succeed. Then sometimes they go and do something monstrous, and they’re all over the news. We see it and we hate them all the more, and resolve to ignore them even harder. Everything we’re forced to find out about them is disgusting, and proves how right our instincts were, and proves that their material poverty is caused by their poverty of conscience. Is it any wonder we want to keep them far away?

But we’re good people. Really, we are. After all, we’re not poor, so that pretty much makes us good by definition. And, of course, hate isn’t a bad thing when it’s justified. So even despite our loathing for them and our desperate need to have nothing to do with them, we still want to help the poor. Even though they don’t deserve it, we show them such saintly kindness.

So we gave them social services. These are people we pay to go into whatever noxious holes poor people live their repellent lives and make them become, if they can, just a little bit less vile, just a little bit more like us. Especially the children. Because children born poor haven’t yet proved that they deserve their poverty (although almost inevitably they will grow into the kind of people who bloody well do – it’s like a kind of predictive natural justice, or at least a sign of their tainted genes)…

4) Septicisle – Baby P to Edlington and angels to devils:

I’ve gone over this before, but one of the most telling contributions [on child protection] at the time was from Martin Narey, the head of Barnardo’s, who suggested had Peter survived he may well have grown up to be the “feral yob” of tabloid nightmares, condemned and castigated without a thought as to what made him. It was part of a speech which was intended to provoke, which is what it did, but it has also now rung almost too true. The case of the two brothers who committed their crime in Edlington could almost be the inverse of the Baby P case: there, an innocent child killed and tortured by those meant to be taking care of him; in Edlington, two “brothers from hell” torture and almost kill two other young boys. On the one hand, the angelic, on the other the demonic. The biblical implications of referring to the unnamed boys as the “devil brothers” is not openly alluded to, but it is there if you look deep enough: “the battle” between good and evil itself seems to be only just below the surface.

5) Mark Easton fisks Conservative estimates on violence:

Are the Tories being honest with their claims on violent crime? Last week, David Cameron told me that one reason he could justify the phrase “broken society” was because of “significant” increases in violent crime, notably gun and knife crime in Britain.

When I challenged him to produce the evidence, his party press office sent the BBC a list of statistics.

It emerges that the only way the Conservative leader can back up his claims is to ignore the klaxon warning attached to the statistics following changes in the way police record violent incidents in England and Wales.

Tory Central Office e-mailed this claim to me:

Violent Crime Up Nearly 70 per cent Under Labour. There were over a million violent offences recorded in 2008-09. Violent crime has increased from 615,985 offences in 1998-9 to 1,034,972 in 2008-09, an increase of 68 per cent (Home Office, Crime in England and Wales 2008-9, 22 October 2009, Revised Table 2.04).

The document cited, however, includes this massive caveat:

The National Crime Recording Standard was introduced in April 2002. Figures before and after that date are not directly comparable.

And yet, that is exactly what Mr Cameron appears to do…

6) Next Left – The Machine versus the Movement:

…The topline finding that Labour dominates all key metrics – but due to ‘unofficial’ rather than party HQ activity – appears to strongly confirm what had been a widely believed sense, if somewhat anecdotally based, that while the left has been playing catch-up in the political blogosphere, that Labour and broader liberal movements had largely dominated the twittersphere.

[...]

Does this matter?… What I found most useful and encouraging about this report is less the “mine’s bigger than yours” sense of the cross-party competition (albeit that the Tory blogging boys sing about that a great deal when they are winning) but rather what the report captures about the quiet revolution which has been bubbling up from below in the culture of Labour politics and activism. The enduring (and once rather justified) sense of a ‘command and control’ party is now rather out-of-date, even if the national press and offline commentariat have been rather slow to cotton on to that.

There have been some false starts – such as LabourList’s initial implosion, before its impressive rebirth under Alex Smith. But today’s report offers one good indicator of how Labour – thanks to a handful of hyper-engaged MPs like Kerry McCarthy, and a larger number of campaigning activists such as Bevanite Ellie – have now got on and done it.

[...]

Yet the Conservative leadership has, to a large extent, sought to emulate the new Labour model of the Phillip Gould era, with the political message of decentralisation being combined with an ever greater focus on tight party management, and journalists briefed that barely ten Tories really “get” the David Cameron and Steve Hilton project. For all its self-projected dress down modernity, this risks being timewarp politics when it comes to the politics of party management…

7) Giles Wilkes -Banking, shadow banking, money:

Consider a primitive economy.   Larry the Lord has £10 worth of Land. Peter the Peasant has £10 worth of Corn.  Barry the Banker has £10 of gold. Now imagine Larry wants to dig a well, and needs £5 of corn. Now, if a land-corn market does not exist, he has a problem. If neither Larry nor Peter trust each other enough, and absent some sort of financial system, no well is dug, economic activity is lower.  Shame – because Larry is a useful entrepreneur, and rich enough, but just not liquid enough.

Stage 1: banking solves the problem

But Barry is a banker.  He offers to lend £5 of gold to Larry on security of half his land.  Larry then buys £5 of corn off Peter by paying that gold to him.  Peter deposits the £5 gold back with Barry

  • Larry’s balance sheet is then: £10 land; £5 corn, £5 owed to Barry.
  • Peter’s is:  £5 corn; £5 of ‘M’, which signifies a deposit with Barry.
  • Barry’s is: £10 gold, £5 owed by Larry; £5 owed to Peter in the form of deposits.

Because this is a static example, everyone is as rich as before – they are each worth £10.  But because deposits with Barry are counted as money, there is now more liquidity – another £5.  If Peter wanted to buy something for £1, he could say to the seller “transfer £1 from my name to yours with Barry” – issue a cheque.  This has huge advantages over having to haul the gold over to the right person – particularly if they inhabit an economy with zillions of economic transactions to carry out, and not much gold.

Stage 2…

8) Paul Krugman – Obama liquidates himself:

A spending freeze? That’s the brilliant response of the Obama team to their first serious political setback?

It’s appalling on every level.

It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.

And it’s a betrayal of everything Obama’s supporters thought they were working for. Just like that, Obama has embraced and validated the Republican world-view — and more specifically, he has embraced the policy ideas of the man he defeated in 2008. A correspondent writes, “I feel like an idiot for supporting this guy.”

Filed under: Politics

Blogging and Anonymity

I often wonder why I blog. I also wonder why I blog anonymously. There’s not much point to either.

The kudos I may get for the former one is obscured by the fact of the latter. The fun I may have because of the latter is precluded by the fact that I want to be respected as a blogger.

My anonymity isn’t particularly precious to me. My employer is not particularly intrusive and a number of my close friends already know (and humour me). My mother remains oblivious but it might be better if she knew. She can only assume the vast amount of time I spend on the internet is spent masturbating.

I suppose I enjoy blogging and I need little reason other than that. I enjoy blogging because I care about people – and that means I have to care about politics so I blog about it. I apologise if the logic appears circular.

I like being able to have an effect on people for the better – no matter how small an impact this blog has. In large part I blog and enjoy blogging because I’m ambitious and a little arrogant too.

On the face of it then it seems I blog anonymously for the same reasons I blog.

I can’t help thinking that one day I’ll be in a more powerful position than I am know. Not a captain of Industry or a Think Tank bod but someone somewhat more influential than I am.

I doubt the ends I’ll want to achieve will change; greater control by workers not owners and greater redistribution until that is achieved, open borders and liberalised migration until that is achieved, drug legalisation, greater policy space for the developing world and free trade for the developed, a more responsible press, a world not just tolerant of difference but accepting of it too.

Though the things I’ll want to achieve will not change the methods to achieve them probably will. I recognise that things here might hurt my credibility and my ability achieve things later on, so I like the option of taking ownership of this blog later if it suits me or abandoning it to history’s mysteries if not.

But there have been a couple of stories this week that make me glad I am a blogger and glad that I do so anonymously which I’d like to highlight here.

Someone writes something on a blog under their real name and it is taken out of context and splashed across the Irish Mail on Sunday (hat tip Anton Vowl and Tim Ireland):

The Mail never told me they were writing a piece about my blog. The journalist who wrote it never sent me an email asking me questions about my blog. I won’t do to his professional reputation what he has done to mine, but let’s just say that I wonder whether he would have expected me to answer his questions the way he wanted.

As it is, in the middle of an incredibly trying time for my colleagues, an article has appeared in a Sunday Newspaper that says I feel abused by the people I work with. It gives me opinions that I do not have, and uses words I have never said. It does so to attack my profession, impugn my employers, and portray me as a victim of my friends.

I feel sick. Any future employer could fairly read what Luke Byrne has written about me and conclude that I am a disloyal, untrustworthy person. The people I work with today could, and probably have, read it and decided that I am not on their side, and that I think that they are sexist, nasty, bullies. None of this is true.

This makes me angry and sympathetic in equal measure. I have documented the malign behaviour of the press and I would not like it visited upon me. This makes me glad my employers don’t know who I am, and potential employers, pedagogues and acolytes don’t either.

On the other hand the story of Seismic Shock makes me proud to be a blogger (hat tip Shiraz Socialist) and makes me furious that bloggers are not awarded the protection they are due.

At 10am on Sunday 29th November 2009, I received a visit from two policemen regarding my activities in running the Seismic Shock blog. (Does exposing a vicar’s associations with extremists make me a criminal?, I wondered initially). A sergeant from the Horsforth Police related to me that he had received complaints via Surrey Police from Rev Sizer and from Dr Anthony McRoy – a lecturer at the Wales Evangelical School of Theology – who both objected to being associated with terrorists and Holocaust deniers.

[...]

The sergeant made clear that this was merely an informal chat, in which I agreed to delete my original blog (http://seismicshock.blogspot.com/) but maintain my current one (http://seismicshock.wordpress.com). The policeman related to me that his police force had been in contact with the ICT department my previous place of study, and had looked through my files, and that the head of ICT at my university would like to remind me that I should not be using university property in order to associate individuals with terrorists and Holocaust deniers (I am sure other people use university property to make political comments, but nevermind).

[...]

Sure, Stephen Sizer managed to somehow arrange a police visit to me from within the UK, but does Sizer genuinely think he can use police on the other side of the world to this effect?

Why is Reverend Sizer claiming that I received a police caution, when the police stressed I did not receive a caution? Is Sizer deliberately misrepresenting the same police force that he originally used to his advantage?

Who is Reverend Sizer reporting to, and why does Reverend Sizer genuinely feel he has the power to close down debate by threatening police action? Why call the cops rather than answer his critics?

Political and theological disagreements should never be accompanied with threats of litigation or police action, but instead with logic and open debate.

I am pleased to help affect the Streisandification of this story as the more who know about Reverend Sizer the better.

These are two stories that seem indelibly entwined. Blogging’s real world influence is obvious in the first in a personal but massive way. The threats to blogging are obvious in the second but on an insidious and more intimidating level.

I am proud to blog but I think I may guard my anonymity jealously. I wish Seismic Shock the best of luck and offer my sincere sympathy to Melanie Dawn.

Filed under: Blogging

Linky Love: 25th January 2010

1) Torrent Freak – Pirates are the Music Industries best customers:

Once again the music industry has come out with disappointing results for physical music sales, which they blame entirely on file-sharing. What they failed to mention though, is that their findings show that music pirates are buying more digital music than the average music consumer. Since digital music is the future, pirates are the industry’s most valuable customers.

[...]

Compared to music buyers, music sharers (pirates) are…

  • 31% more likely to buy single tracks online.
  • 33% more likely to buy music albums online.
  • 100% more likely to pay for music subscription services.
  • 60% more likely to pay for music on mobile phone.

These figures (as reported by the music industry) clearly show that file-sharers buy more digital music than the average music buyer. In fact, the group that makes up the music buyers category actually includes the buying file-sharers, so the difference between music sharers and non-sharing music buyers would be even more pronounced.

2) Matthew Taylor -Good News is No News:

On the face of it last week contained two really good bits of news. First, there was unemployment apparently peaking at nearly half a million fewer people than most analysts, including the Government’s, were predicting this time last year. Second, the crime stats showed an 8% headline fall, again defying the widespread prediction that there would be more offences committed during the recession.

[...]

I am sure the Government wishes more attention was being paid to the good news, and hoping an effect might show up in the opinion polls. If so, ministers will have been disappointed to open Sunday newspapers, brimming not with glad tidings but endless analysis of the child assaults in Edlington, plus pages of speculation about how the current and previous Prime Minister will perform in the Iraq inquiry. But it’s not so much the politics that interest me.

[...]

It’s a cliche that the news focuses on bad things. [But] so wedded are we now to social pessimism that we are unwilling even to acknowledge that as a country we appear to have become both more economically resilient and socially responsible. If we don’t take in the good news we will be even less able to deal intelligently with the bad.

3) Hagley Road to Ladywood: Can evil always be explained?

With the shocking case of the Edlington attacks coming to court, I’ve lost count of the number of hacks and politicians explaining what turned those two children into “monsters”.

David Cameron was quick at pointing the finger at “Broken Britain” and all that is “going deeply wrong” in society under Labour… To be fair, Robert Reiner is even more pathetic. In his view, the fault lies with “the key aspects of neo-liberalism”, he writes in today’s Guardian, adding that “the embrace of unfettered free-market economics by [Cameron's] party in the 1980s and by their buddies around the world” is to blame… David Wilson follows similar lines. “Boy torturers were already tortured”, is the headline to his article in the Guardian. He insists that the two torturers already experienced a background lined with neglect, that they were even allowed to watch porn or gory films like Saw and that they often witnessed their aggressive father in action. All ingredients that would make 3/4 of the UK population potential “monsters” then.

[...]

However, what if -for once- we stopped our finger pointing and quit digging up explanations at all costs? Can pure evil always be explained? Could it be that the responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator and that the irrational, inexplicable evil streak that runs through humankind sometimes cannot be deciphered?

4) Skeptical Science: On the reliability of the US surface temperature record:

The website surfacestations.org enlisted an army of volunteers, travelling across the U.S. photographing weather stations. The point of this effort was to document cases of microsite influence – weather stations located near car parks, air conditioners and airport tarmacs and anything else that might impose a warming bias. While photos can be compelling, the only way to quantify any microsite influence is through analysis of the data. This has been done in On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record (Memme 2010), published in the Journal of Geophysical Research. The trends from poorly sited weather stations are compared to well-sited stations. The results indicate that yes, there is a bias associated with poor exposure sites. However, the bias is not what you expect.

[...]

Poor sites show a cooler maximum temperature compared to good sites. For minimum temperature, the poor sites are slightly warmer. The net effect is a cool bias in poorly sited stations. Considering all the air-conditioners, BBQs, car parks and tarmacs, this result is somewhat a surprise.

[...]

Does this latest analysis mean all the work at surfacestations.org has been a waste of time? On the contrary, the laborious task of rating each individual weather station enabled Memme 2010 to identify a cool bias in poor sites and isolate the cause. The role of surfacestations.org is recognised in the paper’s acknowledgements in which they “wish to thank Anthony Watts and the many volunteers at surfacestations.org for their considerable efforts in documenting the current site characteristics of USHCN stations.” A net cooling bias was perhaps not the result the surfacestations.org volunteers were hoping for but improving the quality of the surface temperature record is surely a result we should all appreciate.

5) Stumbling and Mumbling: The Markets Blurt it Out:

Why have bank stocks reacted badly to President Obama’s proposals for a Glass-Steagall II? In principle, these plans are intended to make banks less risky – which should be good for share prices, not bad. It’s not because the plans introduce uncertainty into the future of the industry. The uncertainty was there all along, and not least of the uncertainties is whether the plans will come to anything at all: EoC says “there’s zero chance” of the proposals becoming law. This should have mitigated equities’ response. So too should the fact that equity analysts’ reaction has been quite mixed.

[...]

Here’s my theory. Stock markets have acted as if the leftist critique of banks is correct. In marking down bank stocks, they seem to believe that traders don’t possess great stand-alone skills but make money only thanks to the good fortune of having a big bank behind them. They also seem to think that banks have for years captured the state and used it for their own purposes.

6) Richard Kim: IMF Clarifies Haiti’s loan conditions:

As the IMF announced its $100 million loan [for Haiti] under vague and presumably onerous terms, debt relief activists like the folks at Jubilee USA were already calling for a different kind of global response. They were demanding that aid to Haiti come in the form of grants, not loans. But given the magnitude of the crisis and the fact that the IMF does not issue grants, they welcomed the IMF loan in the hopes that its terms could be altered in the future and that Haiti’s entire debt could be canceled. At the same time, Naomi Klein and others warned about the possibility that the earthquake would be used as a pretext to amp up Haiti’s exposure to the shock doctrine. Activists started a Facebook group, No Shock Doctrine for Haiti, and over the course of less than a week, it has attracted almost 18,000 members. Appeals for debt relief and for the recognition of Haiti’s economic sovereignty were written to the Obama administration, the IMF, the World Bank and anyone else who might play a role in Haiti’s reconstruction.

Today, the IMF put out an announcement clarifying the terms of its new loan to Haiti–it’s “an interest-free loan of $100 million in emergency funds.” A spokesman for the IMF told me that “the US$100 million loan does not carry any conditionality. It is an emergency loan aimed at getting the Haitian economy back to function again…” The IMF’s managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said in a statement that the IMF would immediately work to cancel the entirety of Haiti’s debt ($265 million) to the fund:

“The most important thing is that the IMF is now working with all donors to try to delete all the Haitian debt, including our new loan. If we succeed–and I’m sure we will succeed–even this loan will turn out to be finally a grant, because all the debt will have been deleted.”

In other words, as the IMF is processing a loan, it is also making a public promise to try to cancel it.

7) Jack of Kent: A Bible Without Verses?

Bible verses, however, are relatively new: the versification of the New Testament, in particular, dates back only to the 1500s. For one and a half millennia, the Christian churches managed happily without any such organising method to their sacred texts.

[...]

We could, even today, have Christianity and the bible without verses, or chapters.

[...]

A lack of versification would also tend to undermine the idiotic wrenching out of context by many Evangelicals of certain passages in Leviticus and elsewhere.

Christian fundamentalists would probably be at a loss without this (artificial) versification: they would actually have to take the books of the bible seriously, and not just their favourite sentences.

8) Giles Wilkes has some useful links on Macroeconomics.

9) Meanwhile, Devil’s Kitchen has a Libertarian Roundup for your delectation.

10) Radiohead – True Love Waits

Filed under: Blogging

On Legal Highs

Last year a girl died following allegedly consuming a mixture of Ketamine and Mephedrone.

A following coroner’s report established that there were no drugs in her system and that she died of broncho-pneumonia following a streptococcal A infection.

The reporting of this at the time should have been described as scandalously irresponsible by any sensible definition of the term.

Both the Daily Mail and The Sun led with the above “dishonest” headlines. Even the supposedly respectable The Telegraph claimed that “Miss Price’s death is not the first harrowing account of the devastating effect the drug can have.”

The Telegraph come closest to the truth here, but only because the coroner’s investigation revealed that Gabrielle Price’s death wasn’t the result of the drug at all.

None of the above provided a reliable source for the accusation she had been taking the drugs but they ran the story anyway. This may have been down to the loss of staff and erosion of fact checking over the last few decades, a lust for a good and simple morality tale or perhaps some cognitive bias against drugs meant that they felt they didn’t need to wait for the coroner’s evidence.

At the time I speculated that this poor reporting was down to something other than malice or propaganda. But this weekend’s papers have caused me to reconsider my position.

The Telegraph reports that Children as young as 12 are turning up at school under the influence of a “legal high” drug, teachers and health workers have warned just as The Mail reports that the death of Ben Walters at a house party in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire was the latest tragedy to be linked to the drug.

The two strands were then later combined into this story from The Daily Mail Legal but lethal: The drug snorted by school kids which is sweeping Britain.

All three stories reference Gabrielle Price’s death [1] despite it having been made clear she did not die as a result of taking the drugs discussed.

The primary source for this weekend’s stories is an article in the Times Education Supplement quoting extensively from Jeff Bower. He is Headteacher of Ben Walter’s school and has called for the drug to be made illegal.

Unfortunately for Mr Bower’s credibility he also uses the death of Gabrielle Price to back up this demand. As cited above, the coroner’s report does not back up this assertion.

The worrying inaccuracies continue. One of the prominent sources for the alleged drug taking of Ben Walters is a college friend of Ben’s who describes the drug taken.

Nobody thinks it’s dangerous because it’s legal. It’s a substitute for heroin but you can get it over the internet

The drug described is Methadone, not Mephedrone. Methedone is a substance which recovering heroin addicts take to wean themselves of the dangerous opiate, it is not related to Mephedrone.

I do not doubt for a second that she had the best of intentions but the inaccurate information given by her has been repeated unchallenged by the papers above. In an area where accuracy is paramount the reporting of this death poses more questions than it provides answers.

The true circumstances of Ben Walter’s death remain a mystery. Police have refused to comment on rumours he had taken drugs prior to his death but have confirmed that 6 people have been arrested on drug charges following his discovery alongside a seriously ill 28 year old woman who has not been named.

Needless to say it would be best to not comment on Ben Walter’s death until after a coroner’s report, but sadly there are those who wish to use his death for propaganda and given the media’s treatment of Gabrielle Price it would be dangerous to allow them.

All of this is not to deny that Mephedrone may be a dangerous drug. Its effects are certainly powerful. A pupil at Mr Bower’s Woldgate College was taken to hospital after allegedly collapsing from taking the drug during school hours.

But the efforts of The Telegraph, The Sun, The Mail, The Times Educational Supplement, Mr Bower and many others make a rational discussion of the use and abuse of Mephedrone impossible.

The tragic death of Ben Walter has been reported in Australia and in America already, and the inaccurate reporting of the Daily Mail and The Telegraph have only lost something in translation.

Those writing for the mainstream press like Howard Jacobson still pretend that they retain not only the moral high ground but a level of journalistic integrity Sunny Hundal and Anton Vowl can only aspire to. The treatment of drugs by the press show a shocking lack of integrity and accuracy.

Drugs affect everyone’s lives either directly or indirectly and it is important that they are discussed honestly. Lies, smears and misreporting are not the way to go about it, but it is what we have become used to. It is bad form to quote yourself but I think what I wrote last year is just as relevant now.

As Professor Nutt discovered it is difficult to discuss drugs in anything other than the most derisory terms. Our press have meekly followed – as well as helping to create and enforce – this rule in the articles discussed above but in doing so they have descended to out right speculation and evidence free moralising.

We need to know how dangerous Mephedrone is, but we do not, and it is becoming progressively more difficult to find out. I think it is inevitable that this drug it is going to be made illegal but also inevitable that this will only lead to it be replaced by another legal high.

How dangerous this replacement will be will again elude us, until it is replaced in turn and fades from view. It is no way to protect young people and it is certainly no way to treat grown adults, yet our press and politicians seem to think they are entitled or obliged to obscure even the most important of topics.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

[1] In the last story she is referred to as Gabrielle Wood, I am not aware if she went under both names of if this is a further example of the Mail’s lax editorial standards.

UPDATE: If I’ve not made it clear above no clarification on the true circumstances of Gabrielle Price’s death has been issued by any of the papers discussed above.

I have not checked all the print editions since but there has been no clarification online.

In fact as they’ve made clear in their latest articles, they are still linking her death directly to Mephedrone in contradiction to the coroner’s own report.

Filed under: Society, The Media

Barack’s in Massachusetts

Obama has made some unpopular choices. Even if we ignore the unpopular bailout of Wall Street, Obama’s problems are still legion.

There is a humanitarian crisis in Haiti where he risks the ire of the American right if he does too much, the left if he does to little, and the far left if he does pretty much anything at all.

Under Obama’s watch an ugly war in Afghanistan entered its 8th year while Pakistan draws ever nearer to the abyss. Iraq has suffered massive suicide bombings, perhaps partially because these bomb detectors don’t work.

The economic malaise – largely the doing of Bush but which would hurt any incumbent – is worse now than many predicted a year ago.

Fourteen months ago, just after Barack Hussein Obama’s election, most of us would have bet that the U.S. unemployment rate today would be something like 7.5%, that it would be heading down, and that the economy would be growing at about 4% per year.

A 5% unemployment rate as of the end of 2009 would have been seen from a late-2008 perspective as a very good and lucky outcome, and a 10% unemployment rate would have been seen as a very bad and unlucky outcome.

Well, we have been unlucky. Unemployment is not going down but going sideways—we hope that it is still not going up. And the unemployment rate is not 7.5% but 10%. More important, perhaps, is that the expectation is for 3% real GDP growth in 2010.

This week it turns out “Ted Kennedy’s seat” is in fact the seat of the people of Massachusetts and they wanted a Republican Senator.

As a result of all the above and more, the biggest healthcare reforms in American history now hangs in the balance. While he never had the highest hope for Obama, the increasing pessimism that characterises Paul Krugman‘s blog is palpable.

Lenin has declared that the dream has died for Obama and I’m running out of reasons to disagree with him or evidence to back it up even if I wanted to.

Obama has failed because he was not radical enough. The majority of Americans disapprove of the healthcare plan in front of Congress. It is worth noting that the clear majority of those unhappy with Healthcare disagree with Obama from the left.

Although the single largest political grouping in America are self described conservatives they are outnumbered by those that consider themselves liberals or moderates.

The above polling backs up the observation Krugman made in his “Conscience of a Liberal” that although self identified liberals are few in number once you unpack the values of those moderates they are liberals too.

The toxification of the socialist brand in America is so complete that people don’t even want to associate with a euphemism for it. Not even the justifiably blighted Tory Party have it that bad.

This is the mistake Alex Massie makes when saying it is bananas that Obama should have been more radical. The healthcare plan is not a radical proposal, for example Nixon tried to introduce something similar. The Healthcare Bill boils down to a few simple and interrelated measures.

To ensure that everyone is covered you are obligated to buy insurance. In order for this to work, there is a new law banning insurance companies from dropping or refusing to ensure the unhealthy.

This would increase premiums to crippling levels for the already unhealthy so to prevent this there is a measure to ensure premiums are set across a given population to keep them down to an average. And to help those who can’t afford it there are subsidies for those under or moderately above the poverty line.

This is far less than most people are happy with and there are some serious deficiencies in the Bill I haven’t yet mentioned.

For example, it offers an implicit subsidy to the Insurance companies by compelling people to buy their mediocre product. It offers a further give away by including no measure to centrally administer drug purchases to bargain down prices. It offers no public option to compete with the private insurers.

Worst of all, the possibility of a single payer tax funded service like we have in Europe was never really on the table.

Despite all this I hope Obama can get this Bill passed. Its warts can be smoothed later, it can be built upon and frankly the Democrats won’t get given another chance. Not that it seems they really deserved this one.

The Obama camp were dealt a massive psychological blow in Massachusetts after a gruelling year. They are left with a Healthcare Bill that no one really wants and they may not even be able to get it passed through all their dithering.

Sadly, this may have been the honeymoon period. The future legislative onslaught which must break up the banks and better regulate finance pale in insignificance when compared with the monumental task of organising Congress into something which could write a Bill to control Carbon emissions.

I expected little of Obama because he promised little. So far he has delivered less.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics

Linky Love: 22nd January 2010

  • Liberal Conspiracy – Exclusive: MPs were misled on alcohol deaths: Liberal Conspiracy has uncovered evidence that strongly suggests that a parliamentary committee which, last week, came out in favour of introducing a statutory minimum unit price for alcohol, was given misleading evidence on the scale of alcohol-related deaths in the UK. We’ve found that that official government statistics for alcohol-related deaths, produced annually by the Office for National Statistics, have routinely been inflated by anything up to 1,100 deaths a year by the inclusion of deaths from liver diseases for which alcohol was not identified as a cause on individual death certificates. One of these diseases, biliary cirrhosis, which accounts for around 160-180 deaths a year in the UK, was initially linked to coeliac disease in the late 1970s (Logan RF 1978) and was clearly identified as being caused by an auto-immune disorder by the year 2000 (Nakanuma Y 2000). It was not, however, excluded from official statistics for alcohol-related deaths until 2006. However, there is also clear evidence that, overall, official ONS estimates fail to show the true extent of alcohol-related mortality in the UK by excluding mortality data for a significant number of causes of death in which alcohol use is known to be a significant causal factor, including several common cancers, road traffic accidents and alcohol-related violence.
  • My David Cameron – Vital Statistics: MyDavidCameron went live at 4pm on Thurs 7 Jan 2010… In total we received 105,928 visits (89,827 of them absolute unique visitors) during our first two weeks, the great majority of those visits in the second week. Our busiest day to date was Friday 15 Jan, when we received20,343 visits. We had also recorded more than 1400 tweets linking to our site (although there were many more tweets that referred to us without linking and these were not recorded). More than500 posters have been submitted.
  • Tabloid Watch – on the death by Haemorage of the Daily Express: More significantly, Express Editor Peter Hill has overseen a massive fall in circulation of 173,449 copies per day since he’s been in charge. Express owner Richard Desmond bought the paper when sales were at 985,253, so he’s been responsible for shedding 307,503 readers. Good.
  • Paul Sagar – Poverty, Inequality and New Labour: It seems reasonable to assume that it was Labour’s redistributive actions that prevented inequality from increasing as much as it would have done under unchanged Tory policies. It also seems reasonable to assume that the poverty-reduction achievements Labour did manage were also brought about by redistribution. Labour has not – contra Tory propaganda – presided over mass increases in poverty. Yet the results are less than many might have hoped for (not least given the huge majorities possessed after 1997 and 2001). A natural question to ask is: “could Labour have done more to aleviate poverty if it has also aimed to reduce inequality?”
  • Matthew Yglesias: Income and Distribution (with useful graphs): At the bottom decile, things look totally different. The poorest ten percent of Americans are in about the same shape as the poorest Greeks or Czechs. Even the UK, which is not normally thought of as pursuing especially egalitarian or statist policies has poor people doing way better than ours. Is it all immigration? Well, Sweden has a higher proportion of immigrants than the United States and the poorest Swedes have more money the poorest Americans. Our rich people [in the US], however, are kicking ass. It’s also worth looking at the definition here… I’m not sure if I’m understanding this correctly, but I think it means that the conclusion that the median Canadian earns slightly less than the median American doesn’t account for the fact that the median Canadian also gets free health care on top of that.
  • Anton Vowl follows Lenny, Andy and my own concerns about the racist reporting of Haiti’s Earthquake, and concludes it is affecting aid distribution: For example, the camera in the aid truck, watching a sea of dark brown faces waiting for a handout, then the inevitable scrabbling around when it’s thrown down. We, the viewers, literally look down on these people – do we see them as unfortunates or subordinates? There’s a kind of ‘feeding time’ thing going on which doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me. You could well argue that these events are, of course, happening, so why not describe them? But the camera is always on the aid truck. We are always looking down. We are never in that sea of humanity, looking up. I’d say that sort of thing, though, is a cliche, a bit hackneyed rather than being deliberately harmful in the impression it gives, other than a them-and-us narrative – which, after all, is how a lot of people do feel towards people in other lands, with vastly different lives and cultures. It can be an instinctive reaction. The one that is a little different, though, is the one about machetes.
  • The Guardian – How Britain’s data was set free: Last spring Gordon Brown was at Chequers, hosting a dinner for recipients of the Order of Merit – which, as it happened, that year included Sir Tim Berners-Lee, best known as the inventor of the world wide web. Berners-Lee had already decided that 2009 should be the year in which he got more involved in how governments deployed data. Though based in Massachusetts, he travels frequently – including visits to Britain. And that March he had given a talk at the TED conference, which gathers influential thinkers and visionaries, in which he made the case for better public data provision and led the audience in a chant of “raw data now”. Brown, seeking a technological initiative and seeing just the sort of person who might know what it should be, said to Berners-Lee: “What’s the most important technology right now? How should the UK make the best use of the internet?” To which the invigorated Berners-Lee replied: “Just put all the government’s data on it.” To his surprise, Brown simply said “OK, let’s do it.” Berners-Lee now says: “I was so much more used to hearing ‘no’ from government that it was a big shock.”
  • You can access the data.gov.uk website. Bloggers take note, this may become one of the most useful tools at your disposal. Its always nice to have firm facts to back up strident opinion.

Filed under: Blogging

Reasons not to reduce the voting age

This is a rough transcript of a conversation involving my mother. A teacher at a college. The students involved are around 17 years old.

Student 1: You hear this? Gordon Brown is going to put a Tax on sweet wrappers and crisp packets to pay for the streets to be cleared!

Student 2: Seriously?! [ed - No really, seriously?] that’s awful.

Student 1: I know! I pay my road tax!

My Mum: Um… that’s not what road tax i… [interrupted]

Student 1: What I want to know is – if I’ve paid my road tax – why do I have to give way to pedestrians at Zebra Crossings. It’s my road.

My Mum: Road tax is there to maintain the roads. Pedestrians could walk there even if there was no road. You let people pass at Zebra crossing because that’s the etiquette of the road. Simple polite rules so everyone gets along, whether driver, pedestrian or cyclis… [interrupted]

Student 2: Don’t even get me started on cyclists. I just want to knock ‘em down and kill ‘em. They haven’t paid road tax!

My Mum: You shouldn’t kill people actu… [interrupted]

This happened. These people exist. They say these things like they’re good ideas.

My mother and I found the above hilarious and utterly chilling. Although Power 2010 think lowering the voting age to 16 is a good idea I have my reservations.

The usual arguments for universal suffrage amounts to a simple argument that although we are all different in property claims, intellectual capacity, religious adherence or appearance we all remain morally equal.

With the above rationale, there seems little reason to deny 16 year olds the vote. Few would argue that because of their age they lack a moral equivalence with people, say, twice their age.

People at 16 can join the army, they can work full time, pay tax and they can have sex (even if they can’t legally watch it). Perversely they can do all this without having a vote; deciding who we war against; what their tax is spent on and whether or not they can legally see boobies. [1]

The above college discussion doesn’t impact on the moral worth of the participants (cyclecide aside) so why shouldn’t 16 years olds have the vote?

The problem comes with the fact that it would be hard to find people who would argue that 16 year olds lack a moral equivalence with people half their age.

Democracy is not just an expression of common ideals, it is also a system of government. Government is, or should be, an enterprise to seek out the best institutions under which we should all live our lives.

Democracy is the meta-institution which offers us the best route to the best institutions on offer. This requires something more thoroughly selective than a simple moral equivalence, it requires an aptitude that few at 16 seem to possess.

Its prevalence at 18 can also seem somewhat lacking but this line must always be drawn slightly arbitrarily. This cleavage in society is unfortunate but necessary.

It may be that our educations system and civil society are particularly bad at equipping 16 year olds with the skills necessary, but unless it improves the enfranchisement of 16 year olds will only cause democracy to suffer.

Similar arguments were of course made in the past about women or black people and proved utterly incorrect. But unless 16 year olds can prove themselves more adept at mastering the basics they are going to have to remain outside the direct democratic process.

[1] Half of 16 year olds chief concern.

Filed under: Politics

New Left Outside New Danger

There are going to be a few changes around here.

Those subscribing via RSS better leave their Bloglines and Feed Demon ivory towers for a moment and pop on over to review the new layout.

I hope this new theme is a little easier on the eyes than the old, which in my view, suffered a bit of a clash between my orange ident and my predominantly green/blue theme.

Posts in 2010 will be categorised under Blogging, Economics, Foreign Affairs, History, Migration, Politics, Science, Society or the Media and you can browse old posts above by selecting “Browse by topic.”

I hope to include many more guest posts this year by those more well versed on conflict, climate change and culture than I. So look out for Otimtom’s return and host of other new contributors.

I will continue with a regular Linky Love feature to bring you the best of the blogs that day.

Most importantly, as we enter election season I am going to have to decide whether it is worth trying to salvage New Labour to avoid something much worse or if I should continue to criticise everyone, with the aim of holding to account whoever is in power.

Let me know what you think of the new layout in the comments below.

Filed under: Blogging

Linky Love: 20th January 2010

  • Next Left – Fact checking Social Mobility: We will hear a lot about social mobility in the next few months, as Gordon Brown’s speech on Saturday to the Fabians and David Cameron’s response on education today suggested. More broadly, it is probably a good thing that worrying about ‘low social mobility’ offers a polite and socially acceptable way for almost everybody to express a concern about how much class structures British society, even if some seem at times unaware that this is what they are saying. But more nonsense is talked about the facts of social mobility than perhaps any other public issue. So Next Left today begins a modest “social mobility fact-checking” service, aimed at politicians, campaigners and public commentators, and would welcome other bloggers and commentators joining a push to name and shame the public discourse into a more accurate discussion of mobility in British society.
  • Political Scrapbook – Sarah Teather playing it by the book: Thanks to the source who emailed to draw Scrapbook’s attention to the fact that, in relation to this week’s expenses revelations, Sarah Teather has in fact been “playing it by the book”. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the book concerned isn’t Parliament’s Green Book on the appropriate use of expenses but the Liberal Democrats’ internal manual on fiddling the system, which was leaked to The Telegraph last autumn. The presentation describes “grey areas” in regulations, encouraging its MPs to “be imaginative” with public money and “spend to the limit” (click to enlarge):
  • Paul Sagar – Continued Tory Tax Nonsense: Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome has responded to my accusation that his pronouncements at the Fabian Conference on inheritance tax were both ignorant and incoherent. Isaby doesn’t actually mount any counter-arguments to my original post, but just repeats Tory mantra about being able to pass on enormous amounts of property and wealth tax-free to those who’ve done nothing to earn it.
  • InMyHumbleEtc – Climate Change, Get Real: I don’t reckon the recent snowy weather has been kind on the Heresiarch’s standards. In particular, the recent Guest Post by the Pedant General was so wrong-headed that I couldn’t let it rest. What follows is mainly my original response, with some extra detail addressing the longer post on Devil’s Kitchen by the General. For me the General’s post is a horrible example of how little Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt the climate change deniers need to spread in order to stymie public action on complex scientific matters. I am sure it took me longer to counter it (lacking, as I do, immediate access to the correct scientific data, and only a passing knowledge of proper climate science blogs) than it did for it to be written in the first place.
  • Carl Packman – France and the Burqa: Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament, now that the plans for a public ban have been put back.
  • Chris Dillow – Happiness and productivity: The old cliché is true – a happy worker is indeed a productive worker. This paper by Andrew Oswald and colleagues finds that “happiness has powerful causal effects on labor productivity.” They established this through a couple of experiments, in which subjects were asked to add up series of 2-digit numbers, with small payment by results. In one experiment, subjects were split into two groups, with one being shown a short comedy film and the other not. Subjects shown the film were 10% more productive than those who weren’t. This productivity boost was confined to those who actually enjoyed the film. What’s more, subjects did not realize that this effect was happening; only 31% felt that watching the clip had improved their skill on the test.  In another experiment, subjects were asked before the test  whether they had suffered a family bereavement or parental divorce in the last two years. Those who said they had were about 10% less productive than those who said they hadn’t. All this suggests that happiness can actually cause greater productivity.
  • Hopi Sen – The Rise of the Bolicy: There’s a new beast stalking Westminster.  The Bolicy. – so dubbed because it is barely a policy, and ends up being total… well, you can do the rest. The Bolicy is born out of  the political urge to do things that sound progressive and nice, but the fiscal inconvienence of not having any money to spend. It has a fine political lineage. It is the step child of the “Aspiration”, and close related to the “medium term goal”. It even has an economic justification, in “nudge” theory, which conviently allows penurious politicians to believe they can solve the worlds problems by painting flies on urinals. What marks  out the Bolicy as a unique species of political nonsense is that it looks exactly like a real policy. It has costings, and specifics, and footnotes. It sounds authoritive.  It just doesn’t do much of anything. So how can journalists and voters tell when they’re being sold a Bolicy instead of the real thing? Here’s a handy guide.
  • Left Foot Forward – Do the public want a cap on migration: Crucially, people want the government to be in control of migration.  But control does not mean a drastic limit on net migration – it’s perfectly possible for the government to be in control of a migration system that is flexible and responsive to the needs of the economy.  In fact, what often gives the public the impression that migration is out of control is politicians making promises to ‘clamp down’ on immigration that they then cannot deliver.  It might be tempting to promise a cap on immigration, but it isn’t necessarily what the public wants, and risks becoming a hostage to fortune. The Government need to resist pressure from Migration Watch and others, and stand up for the systems that they have put in place; demonstrating that they are in control by being confident about their policies, not by constantly changing them in response to the vocal migration lobby groups.
  • Lenin’s Tomb – “There is no security situation”: Once again, just for emphasis and instruction, the security crisis is fabricated:

    One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital. Security issues over the last forty-eight hours have been our—quote “security issues” over the last forty-eight hours have been our leading concern. And there are no security issues. I’ve been with my Haitian colleagues. I’m staying at a friend’s house in Port-au-Prince. We’re working for the Ministry of Public Health for the direction of this hospital as volunteers. But I’m living and moving with friends. We’ve been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There’s no UN guards. There’s no US military presence. There’s no Haitian police presence. And there’s also no violence. There is no insecurity.

Filed under: Blogging

Linky Love: 19th January 2010

  • Nosemonkey – Why Libertarians should support EU integration: If we agree, as most libertarians do, that some laws and regulations are necessary for the smooth functioning of society – agreed systems of weights and measures (to prevent fraud), some level of health and safety guarantees, product standards, environmental/pollution restrictions (all taking Mill’s dictum that as individuals we shouldn’t harm others and applying it to corporations and government bodies), etc. etc. – why have 27 different variants of these laws and regulations, when what’s good for one of us is surely good for all? This is the fundamental reason why libertarians should be in favour of European integration (note: not necessarily the current nature of European integration or current European bodies, both EU and non-EU, but the general principle) – for an individual in country X to have to abide by different laws than an individual in country Y implies a strong likelihood that the two are experiencing different levels of individual freedom. Plus, most importantly, if individual X goes to country Y, then he/she will have to abide by country Y’s laws – a potential restriction on that individual’s liberty of movement. (Case study: In Germany and Austria, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust; it is not in the UK. When British citizen David Irving went to Austria, having denied the Holocaust,he was arrested and imprisoned .) Of course, restricting this to a mere continent (and not even all of that) is not ideal. The true libertarian would agree that liberty is universal – for true liberty to exist, what applies to one individual should apply to us all – and therefore we should be pushing for world government, where everyone on the planet has the same rights as everyone else.
  • Bracknell Blog – Paying when you’re dead: ‘Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that almost £15million was earned nationally in 2009 by doctors signing a form to release a body for cremation’. Our local hospitals have charged a total of £39,973 for Heatherwood and Wexham Park and £62,338 for Frimley Park. Now just think about this for a moment, this means that if someone dies the doctors get paid and that grieving families have to pay it.
  • Paul Sagar – The Environment is not the Economy: But worse were those who kept speaking about a “green new deal” and “green jobs for the future”. There was lots of inspirational rhetoric about saving the earth and the economy – but details were few and far between. There’s always vague fluff about “insulating people’s houses” on this topic, as though that’s going to prevent global climate catastrophe (although I’ll admit promising to do it for free might win votes). But actual policy proposals that stimulate growth and prevent us consuming all the earth’s resources and burning our atmosphere in the process? No, none of those.
  • Lenin’s Tomb – Security Issues in Haiti: The striking fact, patiently reported by observers on the ground, is that Haiti is not gripped by anarchy, ‘mob rule’, mass slaughter, or anything of the kind. There was probably no more violent crime in Haiti this weekend than there would be in any normal weekend, and probably less than in some American cities. Instead, while aid is obstructed, Haitians have cooperated to undertake rescue efforts and administer aid without the assistance of relief workers:
  • Left Foot Forward – UK Prison ratio is second amongst the G7 countries: The eighth edition of the World Prison Population List, produced by King’s College London’s International Centre for Prison Studies, which details the number of prisoners per 100,000 of the population, shows the UK (153) entrenched in second place amongst G7 countries, behind only the USA (756). The UK is also ahead of Turkey (142), Burma (126) and Pakistan (55).
  • The Staggers – The Tories haven’t gone green: David Cameron may have used the slogan “Vote blue, go green” in the past but, judging by the views of his party’s candidates, it’s one he’d be wise not to repeat at the election. A new survey of 141 Tory candidates in the party’s most winnable seats by ConservativeHome and ConservativeIntelligence has found that reducing Britain’s carbon footprint is their lowest political priority (see chart). Just eight of the party’s candidates said it would be a top priority for them in the next parliament. If Cameron can’t persuade his own party that the environment should be a priority, he’s unlikely to persuade the electorate that it should be.
  • Liberal Conspiracy – Did Liddle post these racist messages?: When the Mail on Sunday first approached Rod Liddle yesterday about comments posted on the MillwallFC site under the pseudonym ‘monkeymfc’, he denied posting some of the inflammatory comments. I often get opposition fans logging in under my name to try to embarrass me. I wouldn’t go near the racist ones. It’s worth pointing out that registered members of that messageboard can only post under specific usernames with a login. No one else can pretend to be a specific user unless they know the password. We’ve done some digging and found very vile comments posted there ‘monkeymfc’, and have some questions for Rod Liddle. He said the comments had been made by a hacker. Later he admitted making some comments, though not all.
  • Irish Times – Haitian Survivors offered slice of Africa by Senegal (H/T Tyler Cowen): Presidential spokesman Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye told reporters that Mr Wade had shared his plans with senior aides, and they involved offering voluntary repatriation and plots of land to any Haitian who wanted “to return to their origin. Senegal is ready to offer them parcels of land – even an entire region. It all depends on how many Haitians come. If it’s just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region,” he said.
  • Brit Blog round up here.

Filed under: Blogging

I have a dream

Filed under: Politics

Linky Love: January 18th 2010

  • Left Foot Forward – No Shock Doctrine for Haiti: The poverty which made this earthquake so devastating is no accident. It is the result of two centuries of oppression of the world’s first black republic. It is the result of enforced neo-liberal policies that have prevented Haiti developing the only way any country has – through investing in infrastructure and people. Friedman’s ideas are so popular with the mega-rich because they have only ever succeeded in doing one thing – making them
  • Further Haiti reading: The Staggers on disaster capitalism; The Nation on the IMF’s role in Haiti’s current financial position. Fistful of Euros on Haiti’s Government by Acronyms. Washington Post on rebuilding Haiti.
  • Luna17 asks who profits from child detention: ‘These children have already had their worlds torn apart and witnessed their parents in turmoil and in stress. No wonder that paediatricians and psychologists report that child detainees are confused, fearful, unable to sleep, suffer headaches, tummy pains and weight loss and exhibit severe emotional and behavioural problems.’
  • Chris Dillow blames the 1980s: For many years, I’ve thought that the 1960s generation, with its vacuous hippie narcissism, was largely responsible for the decline of the left. Reading John Denham’s speech, however, raises another possibility – that it’s my generation, the one that came to political consciousness in the 1980s, that is responsible for the Labour’s intellectual disarray.
    Denham says:

    There has been a renewed recognition of the importance of class…it is no longer enough to make simple judgements or assumptions which equate ‘race’ with disadvantage.

    No shit, Sherlock. If Denham’s powers of perception remain this acute, he might eventually figure out what religion the Pope is, or where bears defecate.

  • Devil’s Kitchen draws out attention to a shocking lack of fact checking from the New Scientist and the IPCC: Now, it seems, The New Scientist hacks are horrified to find that maybe the AGW alarmist sources aren’t quite as honest—or, indeed, “peer-reviewed”—as that magazine’s naive hacks might have hoped.

    Sifting climate facts from speculation

    It was a dramatic declaration: glaciers across much of the Himalayas may be gone by 2035. When New Scientist heard this comment from a leading Indian glaciologist, we reported it. That was in 1999. The claim later appeared in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report—and it turns out that our article is the primary published source.

  • Anton Vowl muses on why the mainstream media hold twitter and blogging in such disdain: It’s the same with journalists’ frequent disdain for blogs, bloggery, bloggers and the blogosphere. Occasionally – or you could even say often – blogs are a source of tedious repetition, infantilism, ranting and poo-chucking; but that’s not to say that, in being so, they’re any much worse than what you might read from certain columnists. And yet, and yet… there’s a sense in which columnists don’t like taking potshots at each other, at their ‘craft’, for fear of denigrating their profession, their beautiful life. And who can blame them? But the trouble is, blogs and Twitter are here. They’re here now, and they’re getting bigger, and better.
  • Tom Freeman has serious policy critiques of David Bumface Cameron. With pictures if you know what I mean. Highly recommended

Filed under: Blogging

Haiti Helped… a little

Finally some good news for Haitians.

A reprieve also arrived from President Barack Obama, who on Friday approved Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, which will allow them to stay and work in the U.S., and send money home to their loved ones.

This is not going to improve the lot of many, but it is a good preliminary measure.

As I’ve argued before what Haitians need long term is a withdrawal of outside interference, a cancellation of its debt and a little more policy space so it’s people can drag themselves out of poverty.

I’ll blog on this more later, but the IMF are pretty much doing the opposite. Anyone surprised?

To great fanfare, the IMF announced a new $100 million loan to Haiti on Thursday. In one crucial way, the loan is a good thing; Haiti is in dire straits and needs a massive cash infusion. But the new loan was made through the IMF’s extended credit facility, to which Haiti already has $165 million in debt. Debt relief activists tell me that these loans came with conditions, including raising prices for electricity, refusing pay increases to all public employees except those making minimum wage and keeping inflation low. They say that the new loans would impose these same conditions. In other words, in the face of this latest tragedy, the IMF is still using crisis and debt as leverage to compel neoliberal reforms.

Filed under: Economics, Foreign Affairs, Politics

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