Tuesday, February 27, 2007
But the more important question, over and above whether Gordon Brown has lost his damn mind, is where outside the world of journalism do people ever get 'slammed' for doing or saying certain things? Have you ever heard anyone using this expression in normal conversation? Neither have I. So how come people accept day after day this linguistic curiosity in their newspapers? Not that it's exactly a weighty issue - but still...
For more sense and patience on this topic, see here.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Here's a demonstrator complaining about the 'unacceptable normalisation' between London and Dublin. Something to do with a rugby game, apparently. Anyway, the diddy with the placard complaining about 'foreign games' is, as Mr Eugenides points out, wearing the full regalia of Glasgow Celtic.
[Glasgow, in case you were unaware - and you could be forgiven for being ignorant of this fact - is not part of Ireland.]
He's doing this because he's an idiot.
As are most Rangers supporters.
If you go to Dublin, you'll see people wearing Celtic strips; if you go to Belfast, you'll see people wearing Rangers strips. I find this unbelievably depressing.
Back home - let me describe the situation here. You can get a staffroom full of teachers - you know, people who are supposed to have degrees and shit.
Some of them are monotheists that come from a rain-soaked country where people drink too much.
Then you go to a different type of school where they are monotheists who come from a rain-soaked country where people drink too much.
There's actually two countries involved here but it's easy to get confused because a) they're so fucking similar, b) the people who owe their allegiance to country A were actually born in country B.
As well as being monotheists who are drunk and wet - both groups are distinguished by having a fairly unsubtle view of history, to put it charitably.
Despite being to the outside observer so unbelievably similar, each group often refer to the other in suspicious tones as 'them'. In some cases they go as far as to limit our already limited gene-pool by declining social interaction with the Other.
That's why I hate the Old Firm.
If you are a Rangers or Celtic supporter, you may have been offended by this piece. Which is a good thing, in my view.
The short answer is I don't know because whereas Extreme Tracking gave you this sort of information, Sitemeter, to my knowledge, doesn't. However, if data gathered from recent activity plus what Google brings up, it's this one - largely because Tim Worstall linked it - followed by this heart-felt piece of spleen.
"It would be one in which incentives were unimportant. And this, in turn, would be a world where people had no effect upon outcomes. It's be one where workers filled space, like those poor sods with placards advertising golf sales, or merely obeyed bosses' instructions*. In such a world, bonuses and incentives would be unacceptable, as they'd introduce useless random noise into pay.Are there any other employees of Glasgow City Council out there? Uncanny, isn't it?
This would be a world in which workers had no agency at all, but were merely passive objects to be manipulated."
""We are witnessing a social phenomenon that is about fundamentalism," says Colin Slee, the Dean of Southwark. "Atheists like the Richard Dawkins of this world are just as fundamentalist as the people setting off bombs on the tube, the hardline settlers on the West Bank and the anti-gay bigots of the Church of England. Most of them would regard each other as destined to fry in hell.Recognise your position in this triangle? Neither do I. This is, I reckon, on account of the fact that it doesn't exist. I have my disagreements with the way in which Hitchens and Dawkins approach the subject of religion but to suggest their 'fundamentalist secularism' is in some way akin to the demented theocrats who would rather immolate themselves and innocent commuters than live and raise their children is absolutely outrageous. Take this piece of tripe, for example:
"You have a triangle with fundamentalist secularists in one corner, fundamentalist faith people in another, and then the intelligent, thinking liberals of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, baptism, methodism, other faiths - and, indeed, thinking atheists - in the other corner. " says Slee. Why does he think the other two groups are so vociferous? "When there was a cold war, we knew who the enemy was. Now it could be anybody. From this feeling of vulnerability comes hysteria.""
"The intolerance for people of faith, though, might not seem to be the preserve of only angry atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens. Instead, there is a widespread fear that religion is being treated as a problem to British society, best solved by airbrushing it from the public sphere."By 'airbrushing' we can assume that what is meant here is measures like the separation of religion from the state with, for example, the denial of public subsidy for religious segregation and indoctrination in public schooling. The sort of system, in other words, that has been enjoyed by citizens of the American and French republics since the 18th century. The idea that this is merely the secular counterpart to the theocracy of the Taliban is a damnable lie that has to be challenged. For what are the 'fundaments' of secularism? Not a state like Stalin's Russia or Mao's China that insists to the point of coercion that people be atheists - only one that holds religion to be a private matter and where the government is constitutionally compelled to be neutral on matters of faith.
The reality, in contrast to the falsehoods propagated in this insidious article, is that this vision of the secular state is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the religious states of history, as well as those still in existence in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Because whilst the latter insist that men believe, the former does not. While they may be, and are, imperfect in many ways - and while people of goodwill may disagree concerning the proper boundaries of public religious expression - in such states liberty demands that a distinction should be made between what is a crime and what is a sin. Anyone who claims this is in someway equivalent to living under a theocratic or communist tyranny is either an ignoramus or a fucking liar.
Update: Jim Denham on the same subject.
Friday, February 23, 2007
"Fifteen of the 20 local authority areas with the highest alcohol-related male death rates were in Scotland, with Glasgow top of the league with 83.7 deaths per 100,000."In contrast, Aberdeen is trailing behind badly with a paltry death-rate that is a mere sixth of what Glasgow's is.
Researchers speculated that there were two possible explanations for this pathetic performance:
a) Aberdonians are too mean to buy a round.
b) They have other distractions.
From the beeb:
"Israeli newspapers have printed photos of Defence Minister Amir Peretz trying to watch military manoeuvres through binoculars with the lens caps still on.With breathtaking insights like that, these 'analysts' are doing a superb job, I think you'll agree.
Mr Peretz was inspecting troops in the Golan Heights with the Israeli army's new chief of staff, Gen Gabi Ashkenazi.
According to the photographer, Mr Peretz looked through the capped binoculars three times, nodding as Gen Ashkenazi explained what was in view.
Analysts say it is a new blow for the embattled defence minister."
There are absolutely no prizes for guessing which politician is supposed to have done exactly the same thing.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
They had my sympathy for a few pages. I mean, you need time off classes for religious devotion? I'm cool with that. More pupils should take more time off, in my view. As far as the classroom is concerned, less is more.
Then it started to get on my nerves. Like this bit, for example:
"When Ramadan falls during the winter months, after-school detention or activities for a pupil who is fasting could mean that the pupil is not able to reach home in time to break their fast.Oh really? Well if it's that important, there shouldn't be any problem with persuading their children to behave. Then they wouldn't have detention and the problem wouldn't arise, ok?
Whilst accepting full responsibility for breaching school rules, schools should be aware that pupils are able to carry out their religious duty of breaking the fast on time. A drink or anything to eat is sufficient and many schools do make this provision available when required. Some parents may request that their children break the fast at home with their family."
"Whilst fasting, Muslims are not permitted to engage in any sexual relations and are expected to take measures to avoid sexual thoughts and discourse. Schools are therefore advised to avoid scheduling the teaching of sex and relationship education, including aspects that are part of the science curriculum, during Ramadan."Look - if you find yourself inflamed with lust after participating in the average school's personal and social education programme, this really is rather your problem, methinks. Anything else? Like having the entire building moved a little to the left or something?
"[A]re there any psychologists out there who can save me the bother of having to work out 'why it's better to pretend you're a libertarian'?"Rather than being one, I almost certainly need one - although I console myself in the knowledge that most psychologists and psychiatrists are in greater need than me. I digress - I'll attempt to answer the question - or at least make a couple of suggestions.
Implicit in Paulie's question is the idea that many self-styled 'libertarians' are, in fact, anything but. If I've understood him correctly, I think he's right about this. The question might be more accurately put, not why is it better but why is it easier to proclaim oneself to be a 'libertarian'?
1) Part of the reason is down to what both Isaiah Berlin and Maurice Cranston identified - liberty or freedom are 'hurrah' words; concepts that people automatically want their ideas to be associated with because of their positive connotations. There is a good and simple reason for this, which is that human liberty is indeed a good thing. Or so I would argue. Consequently those who really favour limiting human freedom prefer to call it something else. Few people have the courage to admit they favour less liberty in order that some other human good may arise - which brings us to the second point.
2) There's either a refusal to admit, or a lack of courage to acknowledge, that human values collide and cannot be fitted into a harmonious pattern where everyone will be happy. It's a reluctance to admit, in other words, that trade-offs have to be made. For example, those who favour restrictions on the use of narcotics would be today much more likely to say they favour prohibition in order to save people from the slavery of drug addiction, rather than frankly admitting that they believe this area of human activity should be restricted in order that other human goods, such as health and welfare, can be enjoyed. In other words, people feel the need to dress up their chosen authoritarianism - and we all have them - as 'real' liberty.
To illustrate the point one has only to look at the abortion 'debate'. Protagonists on both sides shriek their absolutist positions using the language of 'choice' and 'rights'. My own view is that it would be better if people like myself who favour some more legal restrictions on a women's right to choose a termination should honestly say they favour a more illiberal policy in order that some other good may result, without dressing this up in spurious language about 'rights'.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
There's a couple of points that confirm what anyone interested in this whole area should know already:
1) 'Radicalisation' has nothing to do with religiosity as such:
""They often charge that religious fervour triggers radical and violent views," said John Esposito, a religion professor, and Dalia Mogahed, Gallup’s Muslim studies director, in one analysis. "But the data say otherwise. There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals. In fact, radicals are no more likely to attend religious services regularly than are moderates.""Anyone familiar with the insights that can be gained from Max Weber understood this already. It is assumed that the more religious a person is, the more likely they will be to express this religiosity theocratically. This is not the case. Weber's insight was that religious virtuosity can express itself theocratically - but it can also drive a person to either retreat from the world in a spirit of quietism or engage with it in a spirit of asceticism, without any recourse to politics. Those who think otherwise, if I may say so, are thinking too idealistically. Those of us that call themselves liberals should be unconcerned with what people believe unless this expresses itself in terms of political power. Dawkins, Hitchens, Hari et al take note. Or read a book or something.
2) 'Radicalisation' has nothing to do with poverty:
"But are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: there is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and stay in school longer."This also should have been understood already. Those involved in Al-Qaeda operations are, on average, more likely to have received further and university level education than the average American. The reason this demonstrable fact hasn't filtered through is because there are still some who insist on trying to lever the phenomenon of jihadism into a Marxian framework. Pity for them.
Other news: Kulvinder of Pickled Politics defends the right of pupils to wear whatever they damn well please, even if it happens to be a moveable tent. Yeah, that's gonna help. I have to repeat the question because 'libertarians' on the subject of education have yet to furnish me with an answer. Not just a satisfactory answer - any answer. So let me repeat the question: why not follow through the logic of your position and make school voluntary? Hmmm?
Monday, February 19, 2007
"A PRE-ELECTION row over claims of xenophobia within the SNP deepened yesterday when a senior Liberal Democrat claimed that Scottish nationalism was all about "building up barriers" between people.Having previously accused the Scottish Liberal Democrats of slippery opportunism, of being willing to sacrifice just about any principle or break any agreement for electoral gain I have to say I'm quite impressed. The outrage has to do with the fact that Mr Stone has done that rarest of things in politics - he's told the truth.
The parties were supposed to be courting each other ahead of the Holyrood elections in May, after which they might have to agree a coalition agreement.
But that was looking more distant than ever last night after an astonishing series of insults and demands were traded publicly between them.
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness and Sutherland, sparked the spat on Saturday when he accused the SNP of being "xenophobic" - just after his leader, Nicol Stephen, had publicly berated the other main parties of running a negative campaign.
Mr Stone's comments provoked a barrage of complaints from the SNP, with Alex Salmond, the party's leader, demanding an apology and action from Mr Stephen against Mr Stone.
Then, yesterday, Danny Alexander, the MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, fuelled the controversy by insisting there was an issue which had to be addressed.
Mr Alexander refused to issue a categoric apology, either on behalf of Mr Stone or his party, and then compounded the row by stating on BBC Scotland's Politics Show: "Nationalism is about building up barriers between people, liberalism is about breaking those barriers down.""
SNP are all about cuddly inclusive 'civic nationalism'?
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Historically, both Labour and Conservatives have a habit of having at least Ten Minutes Hate directed to one of their favourite targets.
For the Labour party it used to be capitalists, whom they threatened to squeeze until the pips squeaked.
Obviously they don't do this anymore so fox hunters have had to do instead.
The Tories, on the other hand, used to do single-parents. Therefore, coming from the position of not really giving a shit about fox-hunting but having always hated the Tories for their vicious 'back-to-bascis' pogrom against single mothers, reason #354 for never voting Conservative is they, despite their best efforts to pretend otherwise, haven't changed.
We can see this in the response to the recent spate of shootings in London:
"[T]hose involved with gun crime tend to have grown up fatherless and in the absence of good male role models have gravitated towards gangs."Chris Dillow points out that while it may be the case that children from single-parent families are more likely to commit gun crimes, overall the proportion committing such crimes is so small that it would be wrong to assume therefore that single-parenthood is a cause of gun crime.
He elaborates here, partly in response to Danny Finkelstein, on his reluctance to focus on single-parents:
All I can say is yes and amen - and reinforce one of Chris's points with a piece of anecdotal evidence of my own. I have a class of seriously badly-behaved 4th year boys, most of whom are involved in 'gang culture'. One of the worst offenders is like this, I assume, not because his father is absent but present - and who just happens to be one of the Gorbals' most feared gangsters.
"There's another reason why I don't want to focus upon single parents here. It's too easy an answer.
Economics tells us that people commit crime because the benefits exceed the costs. This suggests that a bigger cause of crime is the combination of the collapse in demand for unskilled work and the awful education of poorer kids - which make legitimate ways of earning money hard to find - and the high aspirations encouraged by capitalism and celebrity culture.
Insofar as it focuses upon single parents, the stupid party therefore acts like a bully, attacking the vulnerable whilst cringing towards power."
There's something else as well. Ross Clark attempts to dismiss any connection between gun-crime and the drugs trade:
"The evidence appears also to point against one argument favoured by middle-class drug users: that gun crime only happens because drugs laws keep prices artificially high, and that if recreational drugs were legalised, the market would collapse and the violence would subside. In fact, some of the criminals interviewed pointed to the falling price of drugs as a cause of the rise in gun crime: unable to afford their Nike trainers through peddling drugs alone, criminals have started robbing rival gangs."There's a rather snide assumption that only the middle classes, and of these only those who are drugs consumers, that make the case against prohibition - but that's a trivial point. Instead, while it may be the case that this is the argument used, it isn't the one I would make. It may well be that a saturated market exacerbates gun violence but the problem stems from the fact that the product is illegal in the first place. Ending prohibition wouldn't eliminate the black market because this would cause the price to collapse - it would do this because we assume the rational consumer would choose to avoid purchasing an adulterated product from parts of our cities where the rule of law is a faint rumour if they had a safer product from a safer outlet as an alternative.
Friday, February 16, 2007
"A SCOTTISH supermarket chain has banned Buckfast from its shelves after complaints that the tonic wine is fuelling antisocial behaviour by young people.The response of un-named 'drink distributors' was quite amusing, I thought:
The David Sands supermarket group said it had decided to ban Buckfast as part of its commitment to help tackle social problems in the communities it served.
The move came after a request by the Dunfermline and West Fife MP, Willie Rennie, who hopes that other retailers will follow."
"[They] hit back, saying Scottish politicians have "lost the plot" and compared it to banning one brand of cigarettes in order to prevent lung cancer."I'm not in favour of banning buckie but the analogy isn't really accurate because (killer fact time) Buckfast has more caffine in it than Red Bull, apparently. Next best thing if you don't have any Peruvian marching powder, in other words.
"NICOL Stephen declared yesterday that the Liberal Democrats would block a referendum on Scottish independence unless pro-separatist parties gained a majority at Holyrood - an extremely unlikely situation according to current polls."I have mixed feelings about this. Nicol Stephens is right to suggest that it would be necessary for pro-independence parties to gain a majority in Holyrood for there to be a mandate for a referendum; the SNP being the largest party would be insufficient.
On the other hand, it might be an idea for them to have it anyway for the nationalists would surely lose and perhaps all this Braveheart shit could be put to bed for another decade or so.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Have to say it's not something I've paid much attention to nor do I have strong feelings about it but I'm inclined to agree. Roads are a scarce resource and have to be rationed. There seems to me to be three ways of doing this:
a) Queueing - which sucks, and is a waste of a couple of other another scarce commodities; time and my sanity.
b) Rationing the ownership of cars by making road tax prohibitively expensive, except for the goddam 4 x 4 drivers who cause a disproportionate quantity of pollution in the first place.
c) Taxing use rather than ownership. Surely this is a fairer way of doing it? It doesn't limit ownership of cars in the way option b does, only the use thereof - and it concentrates these restrictions where it is needed.
The other problem with option b is it gives those who can afford cars no incentive to use them less, since the average tax cost per mile will fall the more they use it?
Something that should be ruled out as a matter of principle are conspiracy theories. It's not that it is impossible for there to be any - obviously they have been. But like arguments for the existence of God, it is not for the sceptic to explain or fill in the gaps; the burden of proof falls squarely with the believer here. Like this numpty. Let's say it again: the possibility of keeping such a conspiracy secret is in inverse proportion to its scale... Oh what's the point?
"TAKING a siesta could significantly cut the chance of dying from a heart attack, a major study has found.D'ya think the same government that lectures us on the dangers of smoking, drinking and cocaine, along with not taking exercise and having a crappy diet will start hectoring us to down tools in the afternoon and take a wee nap? Neither do I.
Researchers who examined more than 23,000 men and women in Greece found that the those who took a midday nap of 30 minutes or more at least three times a week had 37 per cent less risk of heart-related death, over a period of about six years, than those who did not nap.
And among working men the health benefits appeared even more profound, with the chance of death from coronary heart disease some 64 per cent lower."
Meanwhile, there's Dave Cameron's drugs thingy. This sort of story annoys me for three reasons:
1) I'd tend to agree with Jamie K, this story in particular looks contrived. The question is, why?
2) Don't know about anyone else but these 'revelations' and 'confessions' don't make me identify with politician any more easily because what they reveal is either a) they are and were a bunch of pathetic lightweights, or more likely b) still lying to us and again the question is, why?
3) What's this shit about being entitled to a 'private past'? I'd be happy to extent this to our political class if they extended the same privilege to me. But they don't. In teaching, no conviction - even one for the possession of a controlled class B or C substance - is considered 'spent'. So why should it be for politicians, eh?
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I recall wading through a pile of literature on the subject at uni - which was often a depressing experience because in general the standard is rather low. Part of the reason for this is because it brings together two topics, politics and religion, that sensible people know not to discuss at social occasions, if they have any interest in the conversation remaining cordial.
For those of you with understandably better things to do with your time, let me give you a brief resume:
Protestant writers, be they theologians, historians or whatever, didn't like their religion being associated with capitalism - having clearly decided that capitalism is a Bad Thing.
Catholic writers, having at least the sense to realise that Weber placed his thesis within a more general theory of modernity, disliked their religion being associated with backwardness.
Atheists, on the other hand, didn't like the whole idea that the germ seed of modern individualism could be found within religious movements.
And Marxists were generally pissed off that anyone should place any weight on the role of ideas in economic history.
Consequently, many of them wrote a load of crap about the subject.
So how much more difficult is it now to discuss religion and any political and economic impact it might have today when the stakes are so much higher?
Virtually impossible, I would say, if people persist in the notion that when someone moves from merely thinking or feeling something to believing it, this should confer on them some form of special protection. That is why you can hear the sound of a nail being hit on the head here and here.
I'm not happy about this. We already have publicly-funded party political broadcasts and I think the least we tax-payers could expect is a few verbs for our money. So when they make rumblings that we should fork out more for this shit - and when you get a bunch of 'liberal' journalists agreeing with this - it's enough to drive a man to drink. An irrelevant observation since I'm there anyway, but it's upsetting. Which brings me to this:
"POLITICIANS and anti-racism campaigners reacted with outrage last night when it emerged that the far-right British National Party was to get its own election broadcast during this year's Holyrood campaign as well as hundreds of thousands of pounds in free election publicity from the taxpayer."Thing is, unless you're of the disposition that thinks public provision is always better than private, i.e. you're a Stalinist, it's usually customary to provide some sort of justification for spending other people's dosh on projects they didn't choose to spend it on themselves.
The primary one is the concept of the public good. There's things like national defence, or street-lighting, that people acting in their rational self-interest would conceal their preference for, since they assume that they will get it anyway because they can't be excluded from the benefits thereof.
Do party political broadcasts from the BNP qualify as a public good? Don't fucking think so.
Apologies for light posting; it's me losing my damn mind at the moment. And it's this sort of thing that pushes me over the edge. Labour mobility is a good thing on balance, no? I bet, provided you controlled for the influence of insurance, you'd find that under feudalism the marginal propensity of the average worker to set fire to stuff was higher than it is now.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
"The...case for the draft boils down to two arguments. First off, a draft would change the attitude towards war back home: we would need a lot more persuasion to allow a war to be launched, and we would follow its course much more carefully."The 'first off' point can be dismissed as simply ahistorical, with the assumption that it would be to insult the intelligence of the reader to illustrate this with examples.
Johann's second point has something to do with the truly bizarre idea that conscript armies are better than professional ones because the former are more easily disposed to mutiny.
It's an odd argument that depends very heavily on a moral calculus that rules out activity on the grounds that you wouldn't want you children to do it.
This won't do. Would you be happy if your child decided teaching in Glasgow was the thing for them? I certainly wouldn't and according to Johann's logic, it follows that there should therefore be no schools in Glasgow...
Hang on, maybe he's got a point here.
No he doesn't. I'm digressing anyway because the more substantive point is the one that has been raised by Chris Dillow in two posts about the way in which the language of liberty is used. I deliberately omitted a word from Johann's original article to reinforce the point: would you believe that he calls his argument for conscription liberal? Chris boils down this 'liberal case for conscription' a little further than Johann and rightly concludes that there isn't one:
"There may be a pragmatic case, a conservative case, a socialist case, whatever. But to pretend there can be a liberal case is...a debasement of the language of liberalism."It's not just a question of sematics because it is important if liberty is to be defended there should be some kind of understanding of what it actually is. The tendency for the word liberty, because of its positive connotations, to become porous and take on meanings that really have to do with justice, equality, welfare or whatever has long been recognised. But it does seem to be getting worse. Look at the way 'libertarian' is used by people who are anything but.
One would hope not but perhaps it's reached the point where it's irretrievable - this being signified in the way that 'liberal' seems to be increasingly used by politicians, pundits and bloggers after the fashion of the American right. For my own part, while I often say things on this space that could be variously, and accurately, described as conservative and social democratic as well as liberal, whenever comments and conversations descend to insults and name-calling, it tends to be the last of these that is used in this way.
Thing is, I'd be happy to accept the compliment - provided it's done accurately.
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