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.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Putin Love- From The Left & Right

Something which has been obvious for some time is that any newspaper that criticises Putin will be overwhelmed with comments supportive of the Kremlin. Indeed judging from newspaper comment sections you would think that far from being one of the least trusted governments on Earth, as polls suggest, that Putin was wildly popular. Part of that is paid Russian shills as could be inferred by the tone and poor English of many comments but some of them are genuine.

These appear to people on the far left- the Seamus Milnes and George Galloways of this world- and those on the paleo right. I don't mean the strict non interventionists who have been dismayed by the disastrous result of the Iraq War but those who are actually pro-Putin. While few on the right are quite as craven as Pat Buchanan who seems to think that the USA should be run from Moscow the idea does keep coming up that Putin is a conservative.

It's true to an extent, but only because conservative is a meaningless term in an international sense. If what you're conserving is state autocracy and unchecked power you aren't exactly a political descendent of Edmond Burke. Some point to his campaign for "family values" and religion, but on that basis Mullah Omar is an ally- there is a dividing line between "Culturally conservative" and "Primitive".

Others seem to like him because he is hostile to the EU. I favour leaving the EU but to find the organisation to be worse than Putin's Russia shows a complete lack of proportion. The EU passes directives that interfere in an unwarranted manner in domestic politics, Russia invades countries who refuse to let the Kremlin decide their economic alliances. Of course he is quite useful for Europhiles in any case- who thinks the British public would vote for withdrawal from an international club while a dictator is attacking isolated countries?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

So How's That Reset Coming Along?

I'm beginning to suspect that the "reset " the Obama administration offered to Putin in 2009 might not be going so well. In this Obama's delusion was that the poor relations between Russia and the USA was due to something Bush had done because he looks at the world entirely through the prism of US domestic politics.

The real cause is that the Putin's Russia seems unable to have civil relations as equals with it's neighbours and instead tries to dominate, intimidate and control them. The USA is not unusual in being targeted by Russia, even neutral Sweden gets the threatening treatment.

It is the geo-political equivalent of the retarded kid whose been held back a couple of years and can't socialise with his class mates but can beat them up. Although even an actual retarded kid would be hard pressed to have handled the Ukrainian situation less effectively than Putin.

Appeasing Terror.

The decision by the last government to issue IRA terror suspects with de facto immunity from prosecution is sickening. At a time when Tony Blair's government was sending British soldiers to fight and die in Iraq and Afghanistan his government was colluding with those suspected of murdering British troops.

I don't really understand how a letter from the Northern Ireland Office can trump a prosecution, it looks like a political move to me. The main argument deployed by those who support what the government did is that it was a price worth paying for peace.

This isn't an argument that much merit- a better way of achieving peace is to defeat the terrorists. We are told it is impossible but pretty much all the European terrorist groups of the 1970s had been crushed and sidelined by the 21st century. They all did it without the wholesale corruption of their legal and political systems.

Even the most similar group to the IRA, the Basque separatists ETA are now beaten and trying to "negotiate" with the Spanish government. The Spanish have behaved with more courage and compassion for the victims than our government did and have refused to elevate them to more than thugs.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How To Report For The Guardian.

A row has broken out between the Daily Mail- which supported Hitler in the 1930s- and Darth Vader after the paper claimed that he was involved in the destruction of Alderaan. Mr Vader demanded an apology from the Daily Mail for what he describes as "an orchestrated campaign" against him.

Friends of Mr Vader have dismissed the newspaper's claims as being part of a concerted effort to discredit the Empire. This is not the first time that The Daily Mail- which supported Hitler in the 1930s- has been hit by controversy, with many of it's practices under scrutiny by the Leveson inquiry.

The Daily Mail- which supported Hitler in the 1930s- caused controversy earlier this year with a deeply personal attack on Palpatine's father provoking a reader backlash. .....

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My First Kindle- Hooray For Technology.

I bought my first Kindle this week and I have to say that I am quite impressed with it so far. It's the basic bog standard model, bought for £60. The battery life is extraordinary compared to mobile phones or laptops, the screen quality is more than adequate for the task in hand and the amount it can store is phenomenal.

It is true what people say about the special feeling of a real book but there are also disadvantages to paper books. For example where to put them- book cases are big, Kindles are small. When books replaced scrolls the replacement was almost total- I'm pretty sure this won't be the case for e-readers they will take a big chunk of the market.

I can also see how e-readers have potential to be very useful in a school environment- if the bulk of the textbooks children have to have can be transferred to an electronic device then they won't have to carry have their own body weight to school each day.

All in all it is already one of my favourite electronic devices.

Hatty, Patty & Jack's Friends

Personally I think the Paedophile Information Exchange were just fucking immature arseholes. I'll say one thing for them though- they don't hide behind a euphemism about what they are. Usually promoters of repulsive ideas go to a bit of trouble to muddy the waters a bit- think of the benign sounding Institute of Historical Review that is actually a front for neo-nazis for example.

Given the PIE's directness about who they were, the links between it and a number of Labour politicians- Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt and Jack Dromey- really do require a very good explanation or an immediate deselection.

I don't think their behaviour is an aberration but rather a part of an extreme and marginal anti-family agenda that exists on the fringes of the extreme left. At the same time as linking up with the PIE, Hewitt & Harman coauthored a pamphlet titled "The Family Way" which claimed among other things that:

'It cannot be assumed that men are bound to be an asset to family life, or that the presence of fathers in families is necessarily a means to social harmony and cohesion.'

So traditional two parent families- bad.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mentally Ill Let Progressives Down.

Very good news to see that the suicide rate has fallen. I can only hope this becomes a trend.

 Of course it is a bit surprising, because as a regular Guardian reader I was under the impression that the government was driving people to kill themselves with cuts. For example this piece quotes irresponsible demagogues impartial experts about the impact of cuts warning that they will hurt the vulnerable. Which is why the very generous welfare states of Scandinavia have such low..... oh never mind.

Other hand wringing articles warn of the:
Or ask:
The Independent's Owen "the people's tribune whether they like it or not" Jones inevitably jumped on the ghoulish bandwagon:
But even as mental distress and the risk of suicide soar because of austerity, the support is being slashed back.
In fact this kind of voyeuristic exploitation of desperate people who had ended their lives has been very widespread on the left. There was even a website "Calum's List" devoted to them as detailed by Brendan O'Neill here.

No doubt all these people will now be revising their opinions in the face of new evidence....

Any.
Minute.
Now.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Money Is No Object.

The flooding in South West England must be awful for those living there, and the government are under pressure over the handling of it. This seems a bit unfair, considering it is the wettest winter since Noah it would be remarkable if there was not flooding.

It doesn't justify David Cameron making saying things like this though:
"Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed we will spend it."
Money is always a limiting factor and making promises that inevitably have to be broken is foolish.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Age Is Just A Number- Just Like Braking Distances.

Yesterday I was in a crash on the A14, I was stationary in a line of traffic when someone went into the back of me at high speed writing off my car and his. No one was seriously hurt. The driver of the other vehicle somehow hadn't seen me until he was about 30 metres away despite it being a clear day on a straightish road, for reasons which soon became obvious.

He was born in 1921 and like most 92 year olds he could hardly see past the end of his car.

Had he seen me five metres later I could have been badly injured or killed which brings me to my point- people past a certain age should have to undergo medicals once in a while to make sure they are still physically capable of driving.

A ninety two year old might well have taken his test seventy five years ago- it is senseless for someone to be assumed to be competent in handling a powerful piece of machinery on the basis that they could control a much less powerful machine some time before World War 2.