Sunday, February 27, 2011

Irish Election

Whilst Irish politics can be a bit confusing on account of the relative lack of a traditional right-left split between the two main parties- so I don't pretend to have any real expertise on the subject- surely it is a mistake for the Irish Labour Party to enter a coalition with Fine Gael.

Fianna Fail's traditional dominance has meant that Fine Gael and Labour could only ever govern with each others [insert apostrophe here] support, however in this election the two parties are first and second. So surely this is a unique opportunity for Labour to establish itself as one of the big two by becoming the official opposition to the more conservative Fine Gael. By agreeing to be junior partners in coalition they lose any chance of benefitting from the opposition that will inevitably arise when tough decisions are taken by the new government.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Non Scandal Of The Day

Personally the evacuation of British citizens from Libya seems to have been both fairly complete, fairly safe and fairly prompt. I honestly can't understand what the whinging is all about. I'm not just defending the government for partisan reasons, I really can't see what all the fuss is about.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Expert Witnesses

In a column behind the Times paywall, football columnist Gabrielle Marcotti refers back to Zinedine Zidane's infamous head butt on Italian defender Marco Materazzi and more specifically the spurious accusations of racist abuse that were levelled against Materazzi.

Marcotti notes as an aside that the "lip reading experts" employed by the newspapers to reveal the fictitious abuse, who turned out to be either making it up or seeing what they wanted to see, are still frequently used as expert witnesses in criminal trials.

People have been convicted on the basis of the testimony given by lip reading experts.

Expert witnesses do appear to be a real problem in the criminal justice system in that they are giving evidence that non specialists, such as either the jury or the judges, are simply not competent to weigh.

The defence should cross examine the witnesses but even the greatest legal minds aren't going to be able to argue the minutiae of lipreading, paediatric medicine or gunshot particles with specialists in the field who may be wrong but at least understand the subject.

Getting Out Of A Jam

After watching this video on how to break up traffic jams:

The thought occurs to me, if one vehicle driving sensibly can really have that much of an impact, wouldn't it be useful just to pay a handful of people to drive like that in the rush hours everyday, if a dozen drivers on one motorway could unblock the major congestion points then they would save tens or even hundreds of thousands of people a significant amount of time and fuel. Say one blockage causes 50000 commuters to lose 30 minutes of workplace productivity a day at a rate of 10 pounds an hour then that would cost the country 1.25 million pounds a week or roughly 60 million a year. Whereas it would only cost a couple of hundred thousand to pay people to keep the traffic moving.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gadaffi Will Survive

There is trouble in Libya but unlike his fellow North African dictators I think Gadaffi will survive. The Egyptian and Tunisian revolts succeeded because the armies did not act decisively to end them and the dictators were unwilling to order the crowds to be massacred. Ben Ali and Mubarak will both face an ignominious retirement and may face some level of prosecution but they will probably simply remain exiled in formerly friendly countries.

Gadaffi does not have this option, his past sponsorship of terrorism against the West means that once he is out of power he will be pursued relentlessly for those crimes by the United States and various European countries. That's if he isn't lynched by his own people.

This gives Gadaffi a strong incentive to go to any lengths to remain in power.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Political Point Scoring- Mostly Own Goals

The Guardian really is the lazy blogger's friend. Today Amanda Marcotte condemns the politicisation of sexual assault:
Unfortunately, as anti-rape activists could have told you, there's no such thing as a sex crime too brutal that some folks won't try to use it for political score-keeping.
 Marcotte is a dimwitted femiloon who writes things like this:
In the meantime, I’ve been sort of casually listening to CNN blaring throughout the waiting area and good fucking god is that channel pure evil. For awhile, I had to listen to how the poor dear lacrosse players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and fucked her against her will—not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out.
Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it?
Of course technically she isn't using a sex crime for political point scoring but using a transparent hoax so maybe that's okay.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Guardian Does Music- Finds Racism

Does anyone at Guardian jTowers ust listen to music because they like the tunes, and not in order to discover vast racist conspiracies?

First up athe weekend is Barbara Ellen in which the Glastonbury croud are compared to a Klan rally for being unenthusiastic about a particular performer:
Even now, the "No to Jay-Z at Glastonbury" thing feels acutely embarrassing. Was this the Noughties' "Queen play Sun City"? Was popular culture turning bizarrely racist, the Glastonbury crowds transformed into supremacist loons, teaming white hoods with Hunter wellies? Of course not, but it was bad.
 Because anyone who doesn't like a particular genre of music is against "black music". The Grammies were also on this week and whilst they are probably the biggest joke out of all the award ceremonies out there a Guardian race nut is upset:
Once again, Eminem's raw emotional power has been rewarded at the Grammys – but perhaps at the expense of black artists
Aside from the fact that paired with the other article it seems like white music afficinados can't win- dislike hip hop and you're against black music but if a white person does hip hop it is "at the expense of black artists"- you can tell it's going to be victimhood poker.
no black artist who is as publicly and consistently angry as Eminem has ever reaped similar rewards, either from the academy itself, or from the music industry more broadly. Third, this peculiar truth has come to pass not simply because Mathers is white, but because his anger has historically been directed towards women, queer people and himself – that is, marginal subjects – rather than white supremacy and/or patriarchy.
Yeah like fight the power maaaan!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Obama Will Be A Two Term President

This poll of how Obama fares against against the leading Republican candidates- Romney, Palin, Huckabee & Gingrich- for the 2012 nomination is a bracing reality check to those who want to see the back of Obama. Not only does he still lead in all of the states that flipped from Bush in 04 to Obama in 08, against 3 of the 4 candidates he increases his lead- and this is in the middle of his term when little attention is being paid to his opponents and the economy remains dire.

This isn't due to Obama's brilliance, as the mid terms showed he is not wildly popular, but due to the weakness of the field. The strongest GOP candidate is Mitt Romney but his impressive track record in government and business is marred by his ridiculous flip flopping that reveal someone with few actual principles and will reduce him to a laughing stock in an election campaign. Palin has made no effort whatsoever to improve her standing with swing voters in the two years since her Vice Presidential candidacy. Gingrich's unedifying personal life and his track record of imploding will haunt his campaign. As for Huckabee, he has the right personality to be president but his actual policies are abysmal and often quite extreme.

There are other prominent Republicans who could beat Obama, but the nomination will almost certainly come down to one of those four because if someone hasn't carved themselves a niche among the GOP primary electorate by now then they probably won't be able to do it before 2012- so out go dull generic candidates like Tim Pawlenty, John Thune and the much hyped Jon Huntsman. Three candidates might have the profile to generate the enthusiasm and the money to run a successful campaign- Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush- but they have all ruled out running.

So at the moment Obama looks like a very good bet for re-election.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fear Of Something Worse

Whilst I am glad the Egyptian protests have succeeded in ousting President Mubarak, the concern that the alternative may be worse is worth considering. defining "worse" as being more repressive, more destabilising, more incompetent or more anti Western. Rather than look deeply at Egypt I've decided to look up what the results of previous occasions on which regimes have been toppled by mass protests (as opposed to by war) to see if there is any pattern. I am trying to be reasonably unbiased in the choice of countries (I'll be looking at the most populous nations) and objective in the judgements made:

Indonesia: Old regime overthrown in 1998. Democracy has more or less taken root and the country has not succombed to fanatacism.  Not anti-Western.

Russia: Crowds led to the defeat of the Soviet hardliners coup d'etat in 1991. Since this led to break up of USSR it has certainly not caused more instability. The successor regime is still repressive and anti Western but it isn't noticably worse than before.

Philippines: The "People Power Revolution" overthrew Marcos regime in 1986 and again, there has been no great breakthrough by the extremist opponents whose existance was supposed to justify the britality of the regime. Not ant Western.

Germany- East German protesters caused the regime to crumble in 1989. As part of a united Germany thongs have improved in almost every category.

Iran- 1979. That didn't go so well.

Thailand- 2008 & 2010- One side over threw the government by mass protests. Lack of real support meant that other side tried the same thing in 2010.

South Korea- 1960 & 1987- 1960 saw protests lead to the fall of strongman Syngman Rhee to be replaced by a similar but less brutal government. 1987 saw that regime deposed by student protests and led to genuine  and lasting democracy. 

Argentina- 2002- A democratic government overthrown and replaced after an election by another democratic government.

Romania- 1989- Fall of Ceaucescu. Clearly the current regime is an improvement.

OK so that's ten mass movements in 9 countries over the last half century who have overthrown an old regime. By my reckoning only one mostly peaceful revolution has resulted in a regime worse than what went before and most have seen considerable improvements.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


People who make me want to become a Bolshevik:
Lord Lang, the Conservative peer, said people in ordinary jobs were not sufficiently qualified to pass judgement on the employment of former ministers in the private sector.
Lord Lang told MPs he would be prepared to accept a "lay member", but added that is should be someone "who had experience and proven success in a relatively important profession or trade – somebody who had achieved distinction – rather than a waitress or bus driver." 

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Reading, Writing & Rioting.

Over at Liberal Conspiracy there is consternation about the suspension of a teacher accused of encouraging her pupils to go on demonstrations. However the same site has run about a dozen stories highlight alleged violence by police against the student demos, such as these police horses gently trotting toward charging at students. In other words teachers should be free to encourage pupils to put themselves in dangerous situations if it matches up with their politics.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Argument Against Egyptian Democracy In Brief

Egypt shouldn’t be allowed democracy because it will be bad for Israel whom we must support as it is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Obnoxio hits the nail on the head here:
personally, I don't have a problem with people retaining their culture here, all that irks is when minorities get preferential treatment just because they're minorities
It isn't necessarily problematic when people maintain a cultural distinctiveness* from mainstream society, however all too often the people who are most enthusiastic about supporting the keeping of cultural customs are the same people who view the resulting disparities in outcomes as problems to be tackled- often by imposing costs on the rest of society.

* Obviously there are some customs that I do inherently object to that we should stamp out, but these are things that are already illegal (forced marriages, genital mutilation etc). Also we shouldn't prevent people from abandoning cultural baggage by anointing community leaders with a vested interest in discouraging integration.

Never Trust Your Own Mind

The story about the hard left president of the NUS- Aaron Porter- being racially abused by the ultra left student activists was not something I found surprising given the nature of the extreme left. It was all to believable to me.

Others though found it incredible and demanded further evidence that the event had actually happened. At first I assumed that the writer was making excuses for the protestors because he sympathised with their cause until I noticed that the arguments he gave for disbelieving the reports were very similar to the arguments made to refute claims by a black liberal congressman that he had been racially abused by a Tea Party protest. I found that refution very convincing.

There are some differences in the stories and the latter story was marginally less plausible- but even so that isn't the real reason why I believed one refution of racist abuse immediately and treated the other one as being weasel words trying to defend the indefensible. It was because I was guilty of a cognitive bias that encouraged me to judge the evidence depending largely on which conclusion I wanted to hear.

I'm not remotely unusual in that regard but it pays to remember it.

Democracy & Islam.

There seems to be a widespread opinion that the only viable alternative to the Egyptian regime is the Muslim Brotherhood* and that therefore to support the protesters on the streets of Cairo is to support an Islamist theocracy. There is of course a danger that any broad based revolution will be overtaken by the most vile and fanatical elements within it- the French, Russian and Iranian revolutions all provide examples of that.

However while the danger shouldn't be overlooked the idea that either the Islamists are the inevitable victors in a democratic Muslim majority state isn't true. Over the course of almost a hundred elections in Muslim countries over the last few decades Islamic parties** have fared abysmally with only two clear wins- Algeria in 1991 and the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Both of these victories occured when the regimes had previously extinguished most other opposition groups.

A democratic Egypt is a much better bulwark against fundamentalists than a pro Western dictatorship.

* Glenn Beck is being pin pointed as being responsible for popularising that idea. Whilst Beck isn't Hitler he isn't a reliable figure for interpreting current events either.

** Of course even non Islamist parties are likely to believe things that are extreme and support brutal punishments for criminals, punishments for apostasy and hatred of Israel. However so do the tame dictators too so there is no deterioration in the situation really.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Big Starey Faces

A photo of the book aisle at a local supermarket:

So who buys these books ans what are the close up photos of the face meant to indicate?