Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Better Than You

With so many people obsessed by money, it's good to see that there are still saintly individuals who simply don't care about little things like that.

Take Chelsea Clinton for example:

“I was curious if I could care about (money) on some fundamental level, and I couldn’t,” she told Fast Company in an interview that ran in the magazine's May edition, explaining why she gave up lucrative gigs to join her family’s philanthropic foundation.

The Clinton name likely opened doors for the political heiress, including an eye-popping $600,000 annual salary for an irregular stint as an NBC special correspondent, but Chelsea insists her work speaks for itself.

“I will just always work harder (than anybody else) and hopefully perform better,” said Clinton, who along with former banker husband Marc Mezvinsky, purchased a $10.5-million Gramercy Park apartment in 2013. “And hopefully, over time, I preempt and erase whatever expectations people have of me not having a good work ethic, or not being smart, or not being motivated.”

Truly a modern saint.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Moscow's Wikiwar

An obscure Wikipedia article about a type of fighter jet has been the subject of an edit war today. Why? Because it is about a "Sukhoi Su-25", and Russia's latest propaganda claim is that a Ukrainian SU-25 was detected near the downed Malaysian flight MH17.

The problem is that the Su-25 can only fly up to 23000 feet- which is far too low to have been intercepting the passenger plane that was flying at 33000 feet. So once the physical impossibility of the Kremlin's claim was pointed out, the Putinbots began to frantically edit Wikipedia like an army of Johann Haris.

If it weren't about the slaughter of 300 civilians the amateurishness of Putin's lies would be comical.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

The World Game

Football is supposedly the world game, but it's questionable just how global it really is. For all the internationalism of the World Cup it's pretty obvious that based on the quality of the teams Asia and Africa are significantly overrepresented compared to Europe and South America. The game has always had two centres of gravity from which 75% of the best players and 100% of the best coaches come from-  the Western Europe and the cone of South America.

So far eight different teams have won the tournament- all from those core zones- and an additional  four teams have reached finals but never won- all European although in the case of Czechoslovakia and Hungary a little bit outside the core.

Of the top ten most populous nations on the planet, only 5 are at the World Cup, only 6 have been at a World Cup in the last 50 years. Most don't have sustainable professional leagues either, whatever passion they have for the game doesn't seem to extend to playing it.

Football is not yet a genuine world game even if it is closer to being so than any other sport.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Guess The Country

Over at The View From Cullingworth, Simon Cooke has a quote from a 17th Century English sailor:

"The men that are married are given much to jealousy, and will not permit any stranger to come where their wives are, much less to see them, but will keep them out of sight as much as they possibly can...all their women, both married and unmarried, go with a black veil over their heads and reaching down to their legs, all being covered except their eyes."
Can you guess where the sailor was visiting? If not, have a guess at the predominant religion in the country.

He wasn't at some port in the Ottoman Empire or on the Barbary Coast but was instead visiting Catholic Portugal. It might reflect the Moorish influence in Portugal although it must have been a few centuries since Islam held sway in the country.

It does show that while the burqa is now an Islamic garb in the past, other cultures have been equally repressive. It also shows that even in the 17th century the English regarded it as primitive and evidence of the failings of the menfolk that enforce it.

Also 17th century sailors are more insightful about the motives behind face covering garments than most modern politicians, academics and pundits- it is due to extreme sexual jealousy on the part of the menfolk.

What causes some cultures to foster such extreme sexual jealousy is the next obvious question- I don't know the answer but suspect it has something to do with clannishness and marriage structure.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Right To Nothing

Does anyone else not really understand this:

Every employee now has the right to request flexible working hours after the government extended the right previously reserved for carers and those looking after children.
As part of the right, employees can expect their request to be considered "in a reasonable manner" by employers.

In what sense do people not currently have the right to request flexible working hours? If it doesn't put any obligation on the employer other than to have to consider a request it looks a bit like a gimmick.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Chimps, War And Serfdom

I've been thinking about Chimpanzees- our (joint) closest relatives and all round evil bastards. They are far stronger than humans and when they attack are brutal- with genitals and fingers being pulled out first before they bite your face off. I'd rather be locked in a room with a tiger or a crocodile than a chimp.

They also practice warfare among themselves, in which the aim is to commit genocide of neighbouring chimp populations. They patrol their own territory and kill any rival males who encroach upon it while also making opportunistic raids into rivals' lands to kill any outnumbered males they find there.

If all this sounds familiar it's because it is what humans have done to each other all too frequently- and continue to do today in many tribal societies- which suggests it is a form of behaviour that has deep routes in our shared evolutionary past.

However in most of recorded history, simply wiping out a vanquished opponent is rare*- a lot of killing occurs but the Anglo Saxons didn't wipe out the Celts, the Normans didn't annihilate the Saxons, the fall of the Roman Empire doesn't seem to have involved genocide of the Romans. Instead elite replacement occurs.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the tendency of civilised agricultural based societies to form complex and exploitative hierarchies- in which a self serving elite forms to control the surpluses produced and dominate society may not have been such a bad thing after all compared to the alternative.

An elite that exploits the rest of society will have very little interest in wiping out a defeated population in the way an egalitarian hunter gatherer society does- because it makes little difference whose work they are exploiting.

None of which should is an argument for the perpetuation of social elites today of course, this is just speculation about how we came to be where we are as a species.

* Wars between civilised countries are bloodier overall but not on a per capita basis.

The World Cup Is Anti Feminist Apparently

Oh no, what to do now?

In one of the passages explaining the anti-feminist nature of football Sylvia Murray Young writes:

Paul Gascoigne led a generation of males to sport the "Gazza" haircut, yet his popularity was only mildy dented by the sight of his partner Sheryl skulking past the paparazzi with a face swollen and bruised by his fists. Ched Evans was convicted for raping a drunk teenager, but incredulous fans started the #freeched hashtag and outed the victim. Football fans themselves create a demand for the trafficking of women and girls into prostitution.
The stories of a surge in trafficking of prostitutes is a factoid of dubious provenance, but it is true that some prominent footballers have treated women appallingly. However it is surely a bit of a double standard to condemn the whole of football for the actions of a handful of individuals.

When Lord Saatchi grabbed his wife round the throat did it prove that the art world is hostile to women, when the Socialist Workers Party covered up a series of rape allegations against their senior members did it prove that left wing politics is inherently misogynistic?

It seems to me that football is being singled out like this because it is largely played by working class men who are unlikely to be in the target demographic for listening to professional grievance mongers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Decline And Fall Of The Liberal Democrats

One way or another Nick Clegg won't be Lib Dem leader for much longer, either they get rid of him now or wait until the election when he will lose his seat along with dozens of other Liberal Democrats. I do feel a little bit sorry for him because entering a coalition with the Conservatives was a brave thing to do and right for the country at the time.

However then I read things like this and stop pitying him:

"If I thought any of our real dilemmas would be addressed by changing leadership, changing strategy, changing approaches, bailing out now, changing direction, then I wouldn't hesitate advocating it,"
Listening to the interview it is clear that "our" refers to the Lib Dems, so he is saying that his approach to being a part of the government is dictated by the perceived benefit to the yellow peril, not to the country.

Opportunist maneuvering for short term gain is the major cause of Clegg's unpopularity in the first place.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Right To Be Misremembered

Suppose someone was the victim of vicious and false rumours that they were a convicted paedophile or a notorious fraudster. They could at least discredit the rumour by demanding proof- and use the absence of news reports about them as evidence that the story was false.

Except this option might not be possible anymore because of European Court ruling that people have a right to demand that search engines remove embarrassing search results about their past.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We The Undersigned...

Is there anything more smug and off putting than group letters of the self appointed great and good to a newspaper? Take the letter criticising the Prime Minister's declaration that Britain is a Christian country, regardless of the merits of his claim is there any way that a letter signed by Polly Toynbee, Antony Grayling, Nick Ross and CJ from Eggheads* can have any effect other than boosting the PM's cause?

What is the mindset of people who sign these letters? Presumably someone like Tim Minchin has thought to himself that because he can make amusing comic routines about religion and blow up dolls, that adding his signature to a letter will somehow add weight and merit to the cause he believes in. It doesn't, it just makes him look pompous and egotistical and would do regardless of the merit of the argument being put forward. The same applies to the rest of the figures who signed the letter.

* On the subject of CJ De Mooi from Eggheads, judging by the wikipedia entry on him, he is every bit as smug as he appears on television:
He adopted the name de Mooi when modelling; he translates it as Dutch for "handsome man", though a more literal translation would be "the beautiful".
Bell end.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Majority Of Parents Want More Expensive Off-Peak Holidays.

I thought we'd heard the last of this story a few weeks ago but it turns out that some people are still very angry that holiday companies charge less when demand is lower. The actual outrage is over charging more during the school holidays when demand is sky high, but it amounts to the same thing:

Majority of parents back holiday price caps - new ITV poll
More than half of parents say inflated holiday prices should be capped so they are not forced to take their children out of school for cheaper getaways, a new survey for ITV reveals.
More than half of parents surveyed (53 per cent) believed travel companies should be forced to cap their holiday prices.
 Presumably the hotels and airline operators will charge the holiday companies less during peak demand too. This does demonstrate why political debates over the economy are so inane- even the most basic economic concept, the kind which are learned in the very first lesson of an economics course, are considered to be akin to magic by a large proportion of the population.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Women And Children First

In the New Republic an ethnic Russian writes about Putin's pledge to protect them:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has interesting ideas about what it means to protect people. On March 4th, he articulated a doctrine of hiding Russian forces, future invaders of more of Ukraine, behind women and children: “Listen carefully. I want you to understand me clearly: if we make that decision it will only be to protect Ukrainian citizens. And let’s see those troops try to shoot their own people, with us behind them – not in the front, but behind. Let them just try to shoot at women and children! I would like to see those who would give that order in Ukraine.”

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise given what we know about Putin's character- the German intelligence agencies knew that he was a drunken wife beater back in his KGB days, he doesn't do fair fights- but that is low even for a thieving, murdering dictator like Putin.

Via Harry's Place

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Selling The Big Issues The Brits Won't Sell.

Apparently one third of Big Issue sellers are from Romania originally. Near where I work, one of those Romanian vendors got into a fight this week with someone collecting money for teenage cancer who had "stolen" her patch. This same woman has been selling the Big Issue for at least three years and tells people in the shops nearby that she makes about £40.00 a day- not bad for untaxed income for doing fuck all. Oh and she also begs aggressively and sometimes has a shit behind the shops.

All in all a charming woman. It does raise the question about why the Big Issue- which is supposed to be helping homeless people get by- is effectively enabling beggars coming over to this country to ply their wares. It makes a mockery of the idea of charity.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Tony Benn- National Treasure

There were a lot of good things to be said of Tony Benn, but because he was a "national treasure", when he behaved appalling it gets passed on as loveable character foibles. Take this anecdote for example:

That was a more fortunate experience than a [journalist] colleague. An interview he conducted did not go to the liking of Mr Benn. So much not to his liking that he suddenly drew from a cupboard a magnetic device and waved it over the reporter's machine, erasing the tape.
This seems in character for an unrepentant admirer of Chairman Mao.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's Not Paranoid If They're Really Out To Get You

I've recently been reading a couple of books, one about modern day Russia and the other is about political paranoia in the USA*. I was struck by the similarity between the actions of modern FSB- the rebranded KGB- and the COINTELPRO operations of the FBI in the 1970s that the two books described.

The FSB pracitice techniques developed by East Germany called Operational Psychology:
Mafia State recounts how the KGB first became interested in "operational psychology" in the 1960s. But it was the Stasi, East Germany's sinister secret police, that perfected these psychological techniques and used them extensively against dissidents in the 1970s and 1980s. These operations were given a name, Zersetzung – literally corrosion or undermining.

According to former Stasi officers the aim was to "switch off" regime opponents by disrupting their private or family lives. Tactics included removing pictures from walls, replacing one variety of tea with another, and even sending a vibrator to a target's wife. Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible. Many thought they were going mad; some suffered breakdowns; a few killed themselves.

Meanwhile the FBI's programme to undermine peaceful opponents included tactics like this:

The special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego office had a plan. An antidraft activist in the area was convinced that the Bureau was watching him—he kept telling people that his phone was tapped, his home bugged, his every move observed. With “a small push in the right direction,” the agent believed, the activist would start exhibiting “obvious paranoid tendencies,” and that would “completely neutralize him in his several leadership capacities.”
So let’s make a big show of spying on the man, the investigator suggested. Maybe we could build a spooky-looking mechanism from a bicycle part and an old transistor radio, then drop it off near his front steps one night. “In the event he displayed the contraption to anyone,” the officer argued, “its crude construction would ultimately neutralize any allegation that it originated or is being utilized by the FBI.” And if the target tried to tell people it was a bugging device, they’d ridicule him.

The method used by both agencies was subtle, deniable harassment that over time could wreck someone's mental well being rather than outright thuggery. This isn't to make a facile point about the USA being no different to Russia but the important differences there are because of the strength of other institutions in reigning in the excesses of the security services and with the scale of the problem (Russia has about 20 times more FSB employees per capita than the USA has FBI agents). The difference was not in the mindset of the respective agencies themselves.

In the United States the courts, a free press and a pluralistic political system could eventually hold the FBI to account and bring it back within the norms of legal behaviour. In Russia there is no such constraints on the FSB which therefore has expanded to essentially control the country.

* The books are "The United States of Paranoia" by Jesse Walker and "Mafia State" by Luke Harding.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Book Review- Comandante:Inside Hugo Chavez's Venezuela

This is my review on Amazon of Rory Carroll's book about Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian Revolution":

This portrait of Venezuela & it's late leader shows the disastrous nature of Chavez's misrule but also illuminates, to an extent, why Chavez was popular with the country's poor.

The opposition at least until around 2007, comes across as hypocritical, self satisfied and generally uninterested in the slum dwellers and peasants. The account given of the 2002 coup d'etat is damning. Chavez did genuinely connect with the forgotten masses of Venezuela despite his venality and could make them proud of themselves.

However it's pretty clear that Chavez's rule has been characterised by a destruction of democratic norms- with opponents being routinely jailed, opposition media shut down and massive state surveillance. Although perhaps surprisingly he never went the whole way and abolished democracy entirely- despite his links to Cuba free elections weren't abolished and dissidents were not murdered.

This has been combined with a level of incompetence that has reduced Venezuela to beggary despite a prolonged oil boom.

Chavez's style of rule- as shown in Comandante- consisted of making grandiose announcements in public, swiftly losing interest in how things developed, allowing cronies to enrich themselves and then making a new announcement a few months later that undid whatever progress had been made towards meeting his previous one.

The highly centralised nature of his rule also ensured that his ministers were focused entirely on getting access to him rather than on their actual jobs and any subject which didn't interest him- like crime- spiralled out of control. Placing short term political goals ahead of long term development has destroyed industrial development in the country.

The Chavez portrayed in this book wasn't a monster, but his faults have caused great damage to a the fabric of the nation he professed to love.

Institutional Corruption.

The report also found that one of the detectives at the heart of the investigation into Stephen's murder was corrupt and had links with the gangster father of one of his killers.
The officer allegedly reported back to his superiors with "personal evidence" about the family and "tactical intelligence" to help brief senior figures in the Metropolitan Police. 

This revelation is  scandalous but it surely undermines the conclusion that William Macpherson's infamous report made- that the police were institutionally racist. If it is the case that one of the officers investigating the murder had links to a suspect's family then there is a more direct explanation for the failures of the initial investigation. One which has nothing to do with race.

Macpherson's methodology was shoddy- he arbitrarily attributed all failings to racism despite a lack of evidence. In doing this he made little or no effort to consider other reasons- like police corruption.

Given the numerous occasions on which police cover ups and crookedness have been uncovered over the last twenty years it seems like corruption is more of an institutional issue for the police than racism.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Family Business

The government adviser who let journalists see the classified document he was carrying while walking into 10 Downing Street was Hugh Powell. He is the son of Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy adviser, Charles Powell. Charles is the older brother of Jonathan Powell- Tony Blair's chief of staff.

No doubt they are all very talented but it does seem strange that so many key people in the British government are from the same families.