Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gordon Brown Is Right

Gordon Brown is being criticised by Tory MP Greg Hands for not having met with Vladimir Putin yet. Hands contrasts this with Tony Blair who met Putin almost as soon as the latter took office and points to this piece by David Hughes in the Telegraph which claims:
His early courtship of Putin paid handsome dividends the two men got on famously thereafter.
Well that's nice to know, but the purpose of diplomacy isn't to ensure a friendly personal relationship between leaders, but to advance and protect our country's interests. Under the Blair Putin relationship the Russian government felt secure enough to practice nuclear terrorism in London. (Not to mention the unpleasant stuff it committed within it's own borders)

Compared to this I'd say Gordon Brown's approach is much the better approach.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Great Scams Of History.

One of the most striking things about reading history is how stupid the general public were in years gone by, take this excerpt from Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples, about the sort of scams that were prevalent in the era in which the South Sea Bubble developed:
the boldest of all was the advertisement for "a company for carrying on an undertaking of Great Advantage, but no one to know what it is." This amiable swindler set up a shop in Cornhill to receive subscriptions. His office was besieged by eager investors, and after collecting £2000 in cash he prudently absconded.
It's a good thing we aren't so stupid in this day and age.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Atheist Camp

I'm not convinced by the argument that atheism is "so intellectually unappealing that only very clever people can believe in it " ( not that the veracity of atheism is affected in any way by who believes in it), but nonetheless professional atheists* appear to agree with that proposition and so are going to make it more appealing to 'tards:

GIVE Richard Dawkins a child for a week’s summer camp and he will try to give you an atheist for life.

The author of The God Delusion is helping to launch Britain’s first summer retreat for non-believers, where children will have lessons in evolution and sing along to John Lennon’s Imagine.

As a militant agnostic I have no dog in this fight, but isn't one of the key complaints by Dawkins and other evangelical atheists against organised religion the indoctrination of children before they are old enough to make up their own minds?

* Among the recent wave of atheist authors- Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Grayling & Dennett -Daniel Dennett is by far the most thoughtful and the only one who takes a balanced view of the subject.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does Parliament Lead Or Follow Public Opinion?

Benjamin Disraeli once said something along the lines of "I am their leader, I must follow them". This seems more likely than the idea that the public follows the lead of the political class.

Oliver Kamm writes about a survey showing increased public acceptance of homosexuality:
Acts of Parliament turned out to be important in changing public attitudes. Given that Labour is shortly to lose office in a big way, it's worth noting what the Government has done to eradicate discrimination against homosexuals.
I don't think it is true that Acts of Parliament have been important in changing public attitudes because the exact same trends have occurred in every other Western country in the last 30 years. The World Values Survey asks the question " Is Homosexuality justifiable" and the numbers who think it is never justified have fallen steadily in every comparable country to Great Britain over that time scale (except Italy):

So unless the same processes have occured in all countries it looks to me more as though Acts of Parliament have been as a result of changes in underlying public opinion and not vice versa.

As Disraeli said


Does anyone know how to upload spreadsheets to Blogger?

Update: Never mind.

Say Has Something Happened To Michael Jackson?

"Is the press coverage of Michael Jackson's death getting a bit excessive?", I thought to myself as I sat down to watch the Newsnight special edition about the singer's death. Still it isn't as if anything important is going on in the world.


Can it really be a coincidence that the government has decided to abandon the national numeracy strategy in primary schools comes at the same time as it tries to convince the electorate that projected 2.3% year on year cuts amounts to a rise in public spending?

Will they now be taught Brownematics:
Q1. If Timmy has ten apples but gives two of them to Tommy then how much has his supply of apples been reduced?

A) 10%
B) 20%
C) Timmy's apple supply has continued to rise under a Labour government, he had 10 apples now he has 8 apples, this makes a total of 18 apples or an 80% increase.

Q2. Andy and Belinda both get £5 pocket money a week. Belinda gets a 10% rise whereas Andy gets a £1 a week pay rise. How much pocket money does Belinda now get?

A) £10
B) 50p
C) After 10 weeks Belinda will receive £55, compared to Andy's £60, this represents a cut of £5. Therefore Belinda's pocket money has been cut by 100% under a Tory government.
Full marks if you guessed C both times.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I haven't felt the urge to write anything for a few days so I'm not going to post anything here until the weekend.

Told You So.

Putin likes a big juicy sausage. I'm not sure why this is news I've been going on about it for almost a year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Future Of Medicine.

Martin Jacques looks forward to what the rise of China will mean for the world:
Chinese traditional medicine, based on principles very different from Western, will become widespread across the globe.
Oh I hope not.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Calling Esther!

I see parliament has responded to the crisis caused by the expenses crisis by electing a Speaker who has maxed out his expenses and flipped his home.

Whilst I don't doubt that Bercow has some qualities, he is supposedly quite good on Burma and Snow White speaks highly of his and his six friends' loyalty. However he seems to have been chosen as a stitch up by Labour MPs.

The convention is that the Speaker is not challenged in the election by the other parties, and I'm sure they will honour that tradition. However an independent candidate wouldn't be so constrained and whilst Bercow is far from the worse trougher his election as Speaker makes him a symbol the problem. So if Esther Rantzen still wants to stand for parliament she should head to Buckingham.

Update: The Speaker-elect declares that he will be a "21st century Speaker", which is good news for those of us who were worried about the possibility of a time traveller taking the position.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't Ban The Burqa

Nicholas Sarkozy is proposing to ban the Burqa, a move supported both by Letters From a Tory and David at A Tangled Web.

I think they are wrong. Not because the Burqa is a good thing and we mustn't judge different cultures and all that crap. I do not believe that- the garment is an ugly symbol of repressive values and a barrier to integration. It would be good if every wearer responded as the late Orianna Fallaci did when interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeni. However banning it isn't the answer.

Partly for practical reasons, how can you ban it without also banning every other item of clothing that conceals the face- be it Halloween costumes, motorcycle helmets or scarves worn in winter? Also the practical result of banning the burqa might just as easily lead to Muslim women who currently wear it when they go outside the house being prevented from leaving the house at all.

It's a bad idea in principle too, the idea that the state has a right to tell people what they can and cannot wear is completely unreasonable, what someone wears shouldn't be a democratic decision. I'd vote to prevent Sarkozy wearing lifts in his shoes and he wouldn't like that. Whilst a lot is rightly made of women who are forced to wear the Burqa, the fact remains a lot of wearers do so willingly. Forcing someone who doesn't want to wear a burqa to do so is the same in principle as preventing someone who does want to wear it from doing so.

Furthermore the burqa is a symptom of the status of women in certain Islamic societies, not the cause. If the burqa is banned then great we won't see any more BMOs on the streets, but the women themselves aren't going to be any freer from whoever was influencing them in the first place. If one removes one highly visible symbol of coercion without actually doing anything about the coercion itself then what is the point?

Lastly I don't buy the idea that it is an advance for secularism. Secularism should mean refusing to grant any special place in public life to religion or religious institutions, not actively preventing religious expression. We shouldn't protect the right to wear a burqa in circumstances wear concealing one's face would be otherwise unacceptable. but equally we shouldn't ban face covering only when there is an Islamic motive.

All of the above applies only to the idea of the state banning the Burqa on symbolic grounds, I have no objection to private institutions barring it. After all shops have every reason to demand that they can identify customers and should be able to treat the burqa in the same way they treat motor cycle helmets. There is also an argument that there are practical reasons for the state banning it in some circumstances as a security risk which seems implausible but is a legitimate reason to restrict it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Completely Arbitrary* List Of The Day.

Best to worst British Prime Ministers since the Great Reform Act:
1- Winston Churchill, 2- William Gladstone, 3- Margaret Thatcher, 4- David Lloyd George, 5- Lord Salisbury, 6- Viscount Palmerston

7- Clement Attlee, 8- Robert Peel, 9- Earl Grey, 10- Benjamin Disraeli, 11- Henry Asquith, 12- Stanley Baldwin

13- James Callaghan, 14- Harold Macmillan, 15- Earl of Derby, 16- John Major, 17- Henry Campbell Bannerman, 18- Lord John Russell

19- Tony Blair, 20- Alec Douglas Home, 21- Andrew Bonar Law, 22- Harold Wilson, 23- Ramsay MacDonald, 24- Arthur Balfour

25- Lord Melbourne, 26- Edward Heath, 27- Earl of Aberdeen, 28- Lord Rosebery, 29- Neville Chamberlain, 30- Anthony Eden.

Obviously the great leader Gordon Brown can't yet be considered for this list until he completes his term but I think he might be in the top 30. Also for a few of the more obscure PM's my judgement on them is based on very few sources.

* Actually arbitrary is probably the wrong word, subjective is more like it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

How Insane Is The Iranian Government?

Well they believe that the British government is competent to organise something:

Addressing crowds at Friday prayers at Tehran University, Khamenei said that an 11 million-vote margin proved no fraud had taken place.

He blamed Great Britain and Iran's external enemies for the unrest, calling the British government the 'most treacherous'.

Quite utterly bonkers. If Gordon Brown could organise millions of people to turn out on to the streets then Labour would have done rather better in the most recent set of elections.

Unfortunately I now think the Iranian protesters are going to be crushed quite brutally.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Misleading Headlines.

Sir Paul's squirrel 'to be shot'
No, Paul McCartney hasn't abandoned his committment to animal rights.

Not Good Losers.

North Korea has qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966, by drawing with Saudi Arabia (a relative oasis of freedom). At their last World Cup outing North Korea famously beat Italy before going out in the quarter finals to Portugal after being three goals up at one point.

Usually when a minnow puts in a great performance like that the team is feted and they usually get some kind of official recognition. This isn't how it works in North Korea though, according to Kang Chol-hwan's "The Aquariums Of Pyongyang". when the team got back most of them were promptly sent to the concentration camps because their defeat to Portugal was put down to the teams decadent capitalist late night celebrations after beating Italy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More Than Meets The Eye?

Does anyone else think that something seems a little bit odd here:

Around 20 families were helped by police to evacuate their homes in the Lisburn Road area of south Belfast and seek safety on Tuesday night.
115 people, 20 families decide in unison to seek sanctuary. That seems somewhat over the top, there have been flare ups of racial violence in other cities over the years but have never culminated in the mass exodus of one community, even in situations where more severe violence has occurred.

I don't want to impugn the motives of the victims here but I get the strong impression that there is something that isn't being reported whether that is what is the background to the tensions or whether any paramilitary groups are involved.

Quote Of The Day.

Chris Dillow on the outing of 'Nightjack':
And herein lies a paradox. Night Jack - and the similarly defunct Sierra Charlie - did more to improve the esteem of the police force than every official pronouncement from chief constables and PR spokesman put together. Who ever came away from Night Jack's blog thinking less of the police? Who ever came away from listening to the unlamented Ian Blair thinking more of them?

Outcasts Of The World Unite.

Does anyone else find it vaguely amusing when assorted international pariah's get together to offer each other support and understanding:
The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on Tuesday congratulated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his election win, Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said.

The SCO groups Russia, China and the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Iran has observer status at SCO.
International politics is like a school playground, if no one lets you hang out with them then you can form your own gang of outcasts and pretend to like each other. They can't really form a coherent bloc based purely on not being liked very much though.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Unmasking Anonymous Bloggers.

The Times are apparantly planning to unmask the anonymous police blogger 'Nightjack'. They are behaving deplorably. That is all.

Update: If this post about the journalist doing the outing is correct, then you'd have thought that he had more respect for privacy wouldn't you?

And Then We Can Bring Back The Corn Laws!

I've just seen the Lib Dem Agriculture spokesman, Tim Farron, on television outlining his party's food policies. The idea is to:

o Ensure farmers and consumers both get a fair price for food by creating a legally binding supermarket code, enforced by a powerful proactive Food Market Regulator.

So the Lib Dems want to empower a quango to raise prices on essentials, in the middle of a recession, in order to protect one relatively small sectional interest. It would also be likely to harm the relatively poor in order to benefit the relatively well off.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Iran's election looks like it was rigged. Which begs the obvious question as to why.

Obviously Iran is a corrupt undemocratic theocracy but the usual means of rigging elections is to prevent all but a select group of pre approved candidates from standing in the first place and then let the election proceed normally.

It might make sense as a gesture of hostility against the outside world but the amount of internal dissent it has created seems like a high cost to pay for a gesture.

Update: My theory, which I haven't put to any thorough examination, is that the Ayatollah's decided to fix the election only after the results of the Lebanon election where Hezbollah's alliance did worse than anticipated. After all if that was followed by a 'reformer' winning in Iran it would create momentum for reformers.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Banning Stuff

I see people are campaigning for a ban on various 'legal highs':

A TOP Government health expert last night urged T In The Park chiefs to ban sales of “herbal highs” — over fears the legal drugs could kill a reveller.

Professor Les Iversen claims some are hundreds of times more powerful than many outlawed substances.

He and fellow specialist advisors are compiling a list which they will recommend Home Secretary Alan Johnson makes illegal.

Because obviously festivals are famously effective at keeping out illegal drugs.

Prof Iversen said: “Unfortunately nothing will be passed in time for T In The Park. I am a scientist, not a legislator, but the dangers should be clear to organisers.
He is a scientist and has scientifically investigated the effects of the drugs, they're bad, but he cannot deduce the correct policy with respect to drugs purely by looking at what effects they have on users.

Britain Doomed.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the European election results has been the scaremongering that the success of Eurosceptic parties has led to. The perennially fact challenged Johann Hari writes that if we left the EU:

we would gain little, but we would suffer horrible self-inflicted wounds. Three million jobs would melt away to a Europe that would now be wrapped away behind tariff walls. The millions of Brits living elsewhere in the EU – one million in Spain alone – would be left stranded, and have to come home, or apply for immigration rights they were no longer entitled to.

This is quite impressively wrong. I won't deal with the 3 million jobs myth. You can guess how accurate it is by seeing how scrupulous he is with the other number he throws out, one million Britons living in Spain. Thankfully the OECD compile statistics, based on census data, for the residents of a country by national origin. According to their figures, at the 2001 Spanish census there were 88 415* British people resident in Spain. By my calculation this is less than a million, in fact if I claimed to be 60 feet tall I would be exaggerating by a lower ratio than Hari.

Also, Spain isn't 1970s Uganda so mass expulsions seem unlikely in any case.

* The database lists two sets of figures for Spain so I've used the higher estimate.

Update: In the comments Matthew points to there being other estimates of the British population in Spain that do approach 1 million. Whilst I'm not convinced by the methodology used, it is fair to note that whatever the case the figure wasn't invented by Hari.

The Underpaid.

I've heard people claiming that the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for £80 million with an annual salary of around £12 million is obscene and they're quite right it is outrageous. It shows clearly that footballers are an exploited and underpaid lot.

The rationale behind a transfer fee is that one club pays another a sum that they both agree reflects the value of a player to them. Yet the implication of a transfer fee is that the value of the player is vastly greater than the remuneration he receives and therefore is being exploited by unscrupulous employers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The BNP- The Excuse That Keeps On Giving.

On the subject of the BNP, one of the most irritating things about how the main parties have handled them is how they have used them as an excuse to maintain their own power and shut down discussion of uncomfortable topics, for example:
I'm sure if I spent a bit longer I could find many more examples of things we mustn't do for fear of empowering the BNP.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Unite Against Free Speech.

I've just been watching on Newsnight a truly unimpressive spokesman for 'Unite Against Fascism' defend their attack on BNP leader Nick Griffin today. It should be fairly clear that the "No Platform" policy has failed to stop the BNP, it should also be clear that screaming 'fascist' or 'racist' at them isn't sufficient to stop them (partly because similar accusations have been made against people who clearly aren't either of those things).

Most people are not racist or sympathetic towards fascism, but most people also have a sense of fair play, and when they see a party being forcibly silenced by thugs or being subjected to dubious legal proceedings they will recoil.

The BNP should be interviewed by professional media outlets and asked questions and be given an opportunity to reply. What is more likely to harm them- being attacked by a group of badly dressed cliche spouting halfwits like UAF or asking Mr Brons (the BNP's newly elected Yorkshire MEP) questions about his former membership of the overtly pro-Nazi* "National Socialist Movement"?

The 'No Platform' policy was always the sort of immature policy that could only ever have been supported by former student politicians with no concept of free speech.

* Nick Griffin claims that the BNP want to deport people who are "not loyal to Britain" so presumably by sending Mr Brons to Brussels he is keeping his promises.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Denis Macshane Says- "Embrace Racist Xenophobes"

Denis MacShane writes:

3. Racism and xenophobia are now part and parcel of European elections. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel made their views against the accession of Turkey, a majority Muslim nation, the archstone of their campaign. The manifesto of the centre-right EPP federation explicitly referred to Europe as a Judeo-Christian concept. No room for Muslims then.

Gosh, well these racist xenophobes sound awful. Let's see what else MacShane has to say:

10. David Cameron was rejected by more than seven out of 10 voters yesterday. He now has to put in place his isolationist EU politics by breaking links with mainstream centre-right parties

So having just denounced the mainstream European centre right parties as racist and xenophobic, he denounces David Cameron for having nothing to do with them.

Labour's Strategic Brilliance.

You have to admire Labour's strategic genius, they knew that there would be a shift in public opinion to minor parties, and so they have become a minor party in order to capitalise on this.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Why Gordon Brown Has Struggled.

I'm not going to say too much more about the Prime Minister (at the time of writing) Gordon Brown partly because I think it is getting a bit boring and partly because I'm beginning to feel sorry for him. I don't believe, as some people do, that he is mad but he is clearly under a great deal of stress and there is no obvious relief coming.

His 'Obama Beach' gaffe is vaguely reminiscent of former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin repeatedly referring to the allied invasion of Norway in a speech about D-Day a couple of years ago. The Brown/Martin comparison has often been made but it's worth going over: both men came to power as finance ministers in centre left governments after routing their Tory opposition, both men served in that role for a long time as their Prime Minister amassed multiple election victories, both men had leadership ambitions and ultimately derailed their leader and finally both men led their once invincible parties to defeat and the verge of electoral oblivion. Critically both of them were widely hailed in the media as being substantial figures who would bring renewal to their respective parties after a decade in power under formally popular PMs who had lost their lustre.

I think the reason that they disappointed their followers so much when they actually took office is because of "Overrated Finance Minister Syndrome". The world underwent a sustained period of growth from the early 1990s onwards because of the end of the Cold War, the opening of previously closed markets like China & India, the advent of the internet and just the economic cycle. This led people in various countries to attribute the economic success to the man lucky enough to be sitting in the hotseat when the boom was in full swing. Proclaiming a Chancellor as a political titan because he happens to be in office during an economic upswing is akin to declaring that a Defence Secretary is a genius because our army could invade Luxembourg.

As well as Brown and Martin, Brian Cowen in Ireland is an example of the same kind of thing as was Paul Keating of Australia in the 1990s (somewhat earlier than the others it must be said). When they actually took power and had to rely on their abilities to deal with multi faceted problems where their input actually mattered voters soon realised that they weren't particularly brilliant and in fact had been posted to the finance brief because they were fairly awkward figures who were not necessarily suited to roles that involve prolonged exposure to the public.

The question should not be why Gordon Brown is struggling as Prime Minister but why so many people were convinced he would do well given that he had never occupied a role which tested the qualities required to be Prime Minister.

We Need Some More Cliches

Whilst I'm not immune to using cliches (about deckchairs on the Titanic), I would still like to shoot the next person who declares that the Home Secretary's job is a "poisoned chalice".

Incidentally my favourite part of the reshuffle was when Gordon Brown announced his plans to clean up parliament and then brought Peter Hain back into the cabinet!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Vote Labour!

I've just voted. The most rational choice would have been Labour, as it would encourage the party to stick with the great leader but I didn't do that. There is a real possibility that they could end up with a moderately effective leader now.

Given that the last round of disastrous polls for Labour were taken before Hazel Blears stuck the knife into Gordon Brown's back ankle yesterday I suspect that they will do even worse than the worst polls and finish in 4th place.

My prediction is:

Conservative: 21 seats
UKIP: 15
Lib Dem: 14
Labour: 12
Green: 5
SNP: 2
Sinn Fein: 1
DUP: 1
TUV: 1

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Leadership Qualities.

Never let it be said that the North Koreans don't know what to look for in a leader, obstinacy and alcoholism:

All the sons were educated at the International School of Berne in Switzerland. According to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese who worked as a sushi chef to Kim Jong Il and knew the children well, it was obvious that Kim Jong Un would eventually take over. “The older brother, Jong Chul, had the warm heart of a girl,” he told The Times. “The younger prince, Jong Un, was a boy of inner strength.If power is to be handed over, then Jong Un is the best for it,” Mr Fujimoto said. “He has superb physical gifts, is a big drinker and never admits defeat.”

He sounds like Ken Livingstone.

Poll Result.

The poll on how many MPs will resign produced the following results:

11 to 20: 16%
21 to 50: 28%
51 to 80: 20%
81+: 36%

The last day or so has illustrated two problems with the question, firstly how to account for MPs who announce their resignations but for unspecified reasons? Secondly do MPs who have resigned from their parties front benches count as resignations? I'd say no to the latter but the first question is tricky.

That said I think the idea that more than 80 MPs will resign over expenses seems unlikely and we already seem to be approaching 20 so I'd say the two middle ranges are the most plausible.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Forty years ago J.K. Galbraith illustrated the immunity that large corporations have from market forces with the following example:
“Since General Motors produces some half of all the automobiles, its designs do not reflect the current mode, but are the current mode. The proper shape of an automobile, for most people, will be what the automobile makers decree the current shape to be”
That theory looks rather strained now.

Just out of interest does anyone really think that the US government is going to be able to run a car company with any more success than the UK government ran British Leyland?

Catch 22

How the system works:
Social Services: You're too stupid to look after your child!
Mother: No I'm not, and I'll take this up in court.
Court: You're too stupid to appoint your own lawyer.
It wouldn't be so bad if they (the courts and social services) at least meant well but some aspects of the case make that hard to believe:

After the psychiatrist’s assessment of Rachel, the court has now acknowledged that she does have the mental capacity to keep up with the legal aspects of her situation.

In other words they now accept that their initial assessment of her intellectual* capability was wrong, but they are still going to remove her child on the basis of that assessment.

Incidentally isn't the pretence that these stories can't be reported fully because of the interests of the child especially weak in cases like this? The child is too young to know what the news is and will be given a new identity in a matter of months if the social services get their way.

* Whilst the measured intelligence of the mother is well below average it isn't freakishly so. An IQ of 71 (equal to 71 social workers) would put her in the lowest 2% to 3% of the population. If anyone proposed that there was a case for automatically removing 2% to 3% of children from their parents then they would rightly be considered insane.