Sunday, November 30, 2003

Sing Away

This is good. Type in some words you want turning into a song and hey presto it is. Ok...it doesn't have many words in its database at the moment but it sang a nice version of my protest song 'bad is bad, bad is wrong, the war is good, even if it's long'

The jokes Tories tell

Another new series will keep us informed of the way in which Tory MPs add to the gaiety of life. Today William Hague, former leader,
"During another passage he picked out Peter Mandelson for ridicule. 'I agree with a lot of the things the Prime Minister says,' Hague said. 'Particularly that I have no reverse gear. I too wouldn't have a reverse gear if Peter Mandelson was standing behind me.'"

Saturday, November 29, 2003

March against Evil

As I gave notice here, today I marched from Trafalgar Square to Downing Street in protest again Evil. On a very wet and windy London day, and armed only with some Krispy Kreme donuts, a camera and a flatmate, I called in at No. 10 to protest against our PM's obession with Iraq ahead of defeating Terror, before ending up in Parliament Square to let our MPs know the extent of our hatred of Terror. See here for pictures. Let no-one declare that I haven't made my views known, and those who talk or blog more than act, let it be a wake-up call.

Update: Fearing MI5 or Al Qaeda reprisals I've been forced to go anonymous

Pro-war or pro-Bush?

I think somewhere along the line many of the pro-war lefty bloggers have got someone waylaid, and found themselves being overly supportive of President Bush (Johann Hari has been a fine exception to this). Hopefully articles such as this, from Matthew Yglesias, will remind them exactly what they have been supporting.

Of course as Matt notes the opposite can be said too, that many people have been blinded by their hatred of President Bush into opposing a war they may otherwise have supported. However this strikes me as less serious given George Bush is in charge of this war -- i.e part of the reason one dislikes GWB is the well-founded belief that he would do it badly.

Friday, November 28, 2003

The things Daily Mail readers say

This blog prides itself on its reputation as the blog that reads the Daily Mail so you don' t have to. Here's todays Daily Mail reader;

"Does Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt profess to believe that marriage 'doesn't fit any more' in Britain because no-one has asked her'

Katharine M Withers
Surrey

Otherwise quite a dull Mail, except for the headline 'Tories grab biggest poll lead for 9 years' which is just a lie.

Tax Freedom Day

Michael Howard's first new policy, to make Tax Freedom Day a bank holiday, has one plus and lots of minuses.

A quick rundown for those unfamiliar with the concept. Basic Tax Freedom Day is a measure of the thinktank, Adam Smith Institute. What it measures is the day of the year by which an amount of national income has been produced which is equal to what the government takes in taxes, e.g if the government planned to tax 50% of gdp (the ASI actually uses Net National Income) in 2003, then TFD would fall halfway, which is July 1st (or thereabouts).

The plus is that we get an extra bank holiday.

The technical minuses off the top of my head are

1. It's a bank holiday which no-one knows the date of until the year is over (and then some). So it will be based on government forecasts (one presumes) which are open to rather obvious electoral manipulation.

2. It does not take into account government spending. If the government spends 45% of GDP, and taxes 45% of GDP in year 1, but reduces taxes to 40% of GDP in year two, then that is 'better', and TFD is earlier. But is that really 'better' from the country's economic performance?

3. Taxes always fall in a recession and rise in a boom. TFD therefore will be sooner in a recession and later in a boom. Is this what the government wants to show?

Politically I also think it is damaging for the reputation of the government. It presents taxation as all pain and no gain, and makes no reference to the benefits of governent spending.

Update: The more I think about it the worse it seems. Even if the Tories win I doubt it will ever happen. Essentially it is saying 'taxation is bad' and 'it should always be lower'. But if you think that then in government the voters can quite easily ask, 'well why don't you lower taxes then'. At which point you say, 'well we want to spend this much money on thee things' at which point the whole idea of tax freedom day is rather defeated.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Anniversary

Tomorrow is the 13th anniversary of the resignation of Margaret Thatcher. I can't think of anything to say, but I thought I was quite clever to remember.

A debate cannot be a small child

Opposing gay marriage, talented right-wing blogger Peter Cuthbertson quotes approvingly this sterling argument,

"However much I might wish to, I cannot be a father to a pebble...just so...I cannot, and should not be able to, marry a man".

If widely accepted I think this opens up a whole new area of political argument. Opposed to the war in Iraq? There's no need to point out it has increased the risk of terrorism, or it has ruined our international relationships. Instead just say, 'I am opposed to the war in Iraq, because a leopard can't be a motor car'. Or say you don't believe in higher taxes? Forget work incentives, or government waste, just say 'I don't believe in lower taxes, because a root vegetable cannot land on the moon'.


Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Higher education

Oliver Kamm is on cracking form today, turning his heavy artillery on the Liberal Democrat's criticism of the government's plans for higher education tuition fees. Nowhere near as much fun, this article in the London Review of Books offers however a more serious discussion of higher education fees, and much else besides.

Islamorepublic of France or Military Government of the United States

The growing possibility that we will have one or the other has got me thinking, how can we measure how likely each is? Presumably one would know when we saw it, for example Tommy Franks driving his tank towards the White House, or Abu Hamza opening a bottle of Claret with his bad arm. But by then it would be too late. What we need is some objective measure of how each country is doing, and for comparison perhaps a single unit of measurement. If any readers can suggest one I already have a name for it, 'A Den Beste', e.g. "I think the decision to ban the baguette is at least 4 Den Bestes, whereas Norman Schwarzkopf's storming of the Texas Senate is only 3 DBs. "

Competitiveness

Oliver Kamm skewers the Liberal Democrats for calling to measures to increase Britain's competitiveness, noting by quoting Sam Brittan that competitiveness can belong to people, or companies, but not countries.

Now this is of course true, and I have blogged about it myself (though less than I used to - I now wonder whether anyone seeing it doesn't realise the author really means 'productivity' or is referring to the competitiveness of 'business'). But Kamm's obsession with the Liberal Democrats blinds him to the fact that all politicians, not just the Liberal Democrats. For example here's the leader of the Conservative Party, the leader of the Labour Party, the CBI, etc etc.

More of the Beste

Another corking Den Beste post (I know this wastes your time and mine, and I promise this is the last time -- but note that most UK right-wing weblogs link to this guy so I assume they agree with something he is saying). He argues that those who point out that the USA has about 90% of the world's WMD are confusing 'capabilities' and 'intention'. All true and good, except he then says 'It's true that the US has the capability to use WMDs in extraordinarily devastating attacks at very short notice. But for more than fifty years the US has not done so, and would still rather not if it can be avoided.'

This still rather not if it can be avoided is probably not particularly reassuring for most people, particularly given the next 10,000 words are spent saying how the US might use its WMD (In passing he says the US is the only country to have acknowledged using WMD in wartime -- so who is the other? India? Israel?)

As he is describing ways in which the US might use WMD to destroy bunkers(!), he comes over all shy, ' I don't care to go into details (why help our enemy with his plans?) but even a crude nuclear weapon is not very large,'..

He then starts to speculate over what would happen in the US in the aftermath of a nuclear attack. He says the US would issue a four-point directive, of which point three would be,

'3. All nations will fully answer any significant questions we ask'

which is fascinating, though one wonders whether other countries would get reciprocal questioning rights. Perhaps Tony could use some of his celebrated 'influence'. But what question would be ask? I'd like to know finally who shot JFK, for instance, but I'm sure others would have more cerebral ones, such as 'what happens in the next episode of 24'.

Blimey. I hadn't read point 4.

"4. Any nation whose cooperation is not considered adequate will be assumed to be an enemy, and may be the target of a saturation nuclear strike at a time of our choosing, without any warning. There will be no negotiations, no second chances, no obfuscation, no delay, no deception".

That's a little heavy. Oh, hang on, 'Would we actually obliterate the first nation which didn't fully cooperate? I don't think so; I think that we'd fire one warning shot, by setting off a nuke in their territory, close enough to a major city so it could be seen and felt and heard but far enough away to not destroy it. That might require one or more small towns to be destroyed, but we wouldn't target a major city or metropolitan area the first time.' Phew...

Oh my goodness. I've kept reading and found an even wackier blog. THis guy has got his Excel spreadsheet out and worked out that the US can't defeat Islamic terorrism without murdering all Muslims in one go and quickly (in the event of a nuclear strike on the US)






Steve Waugh

Steve Waugh, one of the best cricketers of all-time is to retire. I've always been a big fan, and I liked the way he closed his retirement press conference;

""The upcoming Sydney Test will be my last for Australia, should I be selected," the 38-year-old said. "

Now I know Australian cricket selectors are notoriously hard-nosed but surely even they wouldn't drop him in this case?!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The things Daily Mail readers say

no. 4567

"President Bush's use of the words 'Brits' is rightly regarded as a term of endearment. Similar abbreviation of 'Pakistanis' would have got him involved with the Race Industry.


Peter Maller
Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset

Howard, Gould and the Evening Standard

I heard Bryan Gould, the best leader the Labour Party never had, on the radio the other day and it reminded me of a curious story that involved Michael Howard's son. Essentially the Evening Standard published a fierce attack on Tony Blair's leadership of the Labour Party, puporting to be from Gould (who had only just left British politics for New Zealand). The Conservatives, in a bit of a pickle, were overjoyed until it was disclosed that actually it had been written by 19yr old Nick Howard.

The BBC takes up the story - the bit I like especially is it started with 'I was two years old in 1979' which the sub-editor thought was a little strange. However instead of checking the article with the puported author, he added a sub-heading, 'Mr Gould imagines himself as first time voter'.

Coup d'etat?*

Via Mr Happy, one learns that General Tommy Franks is contemplating the prospect (if attacked by the Vans of Doom) of America tearing up the constitution and putting in its place a military government**. Thank god for Donald Rumsfeld. What a strange world we live in - I actually meant that last sentence.

* Of course another thing preventing this happening would be that it is a French word, and they would probably have to rename it first.
** I'm tempted to do a SDB and spend the next 2,000 words contemplating the prospect of a military government in the US, arrayed against an Islamofaschist Republic of France. But...

Monday, November 24, 2003

More ranty Americans

I should link more to Felix Salmon's website, and so I will do so here to indirectly link to the strange ranting behaviour of Jeff Jarvis, merely because it is funny.

Note: Please read disclaimer below.

Lightbulb goes on

You know how wonderful it is when you don't quite understand something and then you come across a blog entry that just clears things up?

Well today I was wondering why European countries tend to pass new medical drugs for public use quicker than the US FDA. It didn't seem to make sense. Luckily Stephen Den Beste was on hand to clarify:

"Europeans don't have any "rights" in the sense that Americans think of the term. What they have is privileges....Americans see themselves as partners in the nation; Europeans see themselves as chattels...Europeans don't see government as having any duty to serve the governed. ...When it comes to their equivalent of the FDA approval process, European bureaucrats don't concern themselves as much with potential dangers associated with new drugs because they don't have to. It's not that they're more courageous, it's just that they don't care as much

First, a disclaimer

The debate on how one can protest against the IraqFirst, Al QaedaSecond policy of Bush/Blair without being accused of being objectively pro-Saddam, or a Baathist, or yellow, or a coward, or French, or so on, continues.

Nick suggests a placard with two sides, one showing what an upstanding member of society you are, and the other protesting. The idea is that you would show the 'good' side first to gain access, then unfurl the 'bad' side.

I have another idea which came to me today when reading a financial prospectus. Perhaps all placards, blog entries, etc could carry a Disclaimer.

In financial terms these tend to look something like this (but longer):

"X exercises the utmost care with the information provided in this report. The company does not, however, guarantee all of the information to be correct or complete. X will not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions in the information or for any loss, damage or injury suffered by any user based upon the information herein."

In blog terms it could go something like this;

" This blog entry has been prepared with its usual standard of care. However [insert your name] cannot take responsibility for any errors or omissions, and in particular failure to condemn an acticvity, group or person does not imply support for that activity, group or person. Indeed, when that activity, group or person is connected to Terror or Evil, any omission should be taken as condemnation. Any criticism of our elected Leaders contained within, or those of foreign lands, does not imply that he/she is worse than Saddam, Kim Il-Jong, Fidel Castro, Tony Benn, the Wicked Witch of the East, Fungus the Bogeyman or whoever today's hate figure is. In addition any criticism of our country's Leaders, or our country's Policy, is made with the full understanding that such criticism would not be allowed in many countries of the world, and indeed in some would invite the death penalty, such as Iraq, Iran and most countries in the European Union. Such criticism is made because they are Our country's leaders or policies. It should not be taken as meaning a wish to live in Iraq, Iran or North Korea. Finally if the comments made in this blog entry are similar to those of Other People, it does not imply agreement with views of those Other People on every subject under the sun. "

Now one could argue it is too long to type in for every blog entry. But if you use Word's 'Autocorrect' feature, then once it's setup you could just type in 'Disclaimer', and it would automatically pop up, saving you from nasty comments from the pro-war on Iraq lobby.

1 in 71,601 lifetime chance of dying from being hit by lightning

The odds of dying for an American from an external cause (such as being run over) in their lifetime is 1/24.

This includes

Dying in a car crash (in the car) - 1/242
Dying as a pedestrian in a car accident (1/610)
Drowning (1/7683)
Bitten by dog (1/137,000)
Bitten or crushed by reptiles (not insects) (1/115,486)
Ignition of nightwear (1/398,000)
Overexertion (1/19,000)

Update: A friend writes, 'what really worries me are the risks of "accidental suffocation and
strangulation in bed" (which is about 1 in 10,000) and the hideous sounding "Inhalation of gastric contents" (again about 1 in 10,000). The good news is that both of these events are more likely than the risks of dying from alcohol (about 1 in 12,000) although it raises some questions about the classifications. If I were to have 10 pints and fall unconcious on bed, I could see how I might die from all three of these causes at the same time - do you think my chances of dying would then increase 3 fold?

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Iraq & terrorism

As I have said in many posts recently, I'm not persuaded by the argument that Britain is being attacked only because it backed the US in Iraq. Matthew Parris in The Times however is convinced it's made it worse (I suppose undeniable) and argues that its worth saying so. He also argues something I do believe, which is Bush & Blair are fighting the war against terror in in a counterproductive way.

Protesting against terror

It seems now the prevailing view among the pro-war right and left is that it is illegitimate to protest against Bush/Blair's policy in Iraq unless you also protest against Al Qaeda terrorism.

Now this has been dealt with far more interestingly that I could on (among others) Crooked Timber and Virtual Stoa.

A further concern I have is to protest against Al Qaeda terrorism would be monumentally weird. Osama Bin Laden doestn't look at British public opinion before planning his next outrage, and if he did presumably seeing how much it annoyed us would spur him on. So to whom would the protest be aimed?

Nevertheless I can see an argument for an anti-terrorism protest. First, it could make sure everyone knows that we don't like terrorism. Second, it could be aimed at the 'SaddamFirst' policies of Bush/Blair and their supporters who believed in March 2003 that the primary focus of our foreign/defence policy, and main use of our limited resources should have been to oust Saddam, not to fight Al Qaeda.

Thus to allow me to continue to protest against the Bush administration, to make sure Osama knows how much I dislike Al Qaeda terrorism, and to get it over to Bush/Blair that their policy of half-heartedly pursuing the war on Al Qaeda is wrong, next Saturday I will march on Downing Street from Trafalgar Square to tell them. You are welcome to join me.

* What shall my banner say? I thought 'Terrorism is Evil' on one side, or 'Osama -- Not in my Name'. And on the other 'We should have fought Al Qaeda, before Saddam, who was being contained by UN policies, which required a bit of tinkering with'.

The Premiership

Why don't football programmes (Sky as well as ITV) employ an ex-referee to explain decisions? I know in football the referee is generally considered sub-hooligan, but it would be better than people like Ron Atkinson giving you their view of offside (I'm thinking of the disallowed Blackburn goal, but such disputes happen every match). I mean, ok, it's sometimes subjective, but 'I'll tell you what clive, to me it's not offside' wears thin after while.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

PCRS

I recall now why I stopped doing the PCRS. It's because however hard I tried I could never quite reach the Great Man's loony heights.

And I still can't. Here's a new classic, with all the Cuthie topics you'd expect (homosexuality, 'sexual love', liberals -- no ass-raping this time though) and flashes of his usual talent for taking one small incident and assuming from it a national trend. Unmissable.

Friday, November 21, 2003

PCRS IV

Bobbie at Politix has a new series which begins with a version of a PCRS. I have been toying with restarting the service after Peter's more relaxed attitude to blogging since starting university - luckily others appear willing to do it for me. In the meantime I'll repost the original PCRS up just for now.

Peter Cuthbertson Replacement Service (PCRS)

That two of the evil terrorists to stand trial for the murders of 3,000 innocent people on September 11th are British is a sad reflection on the me-first instant gratification culture forced upon us by the left-wing media. That these enemies of liberty feel that there is nothing wrong with getting their kicks out of flying aeroplanes into skyscrapers is symptomatic of the wider malaise in society resulting from Lord Jenkins’s permissive legislation of the 1960s and the existence of the state pension. Whence they are found guilty we must be thankful that they have been tried in America, out of the reach of the do-gooding Belgians at the European Court of Human ‘Rights’. In that great Republic, the sanctity of human life remains more than a theoretical concept and they will meet the punishment they deserve. To the gas chambers, and good riddance!

Indeed

This is brilliant and following on from (via Chris Brooke) Melanie Phillips' attack on 'gay marriage' this is even better.

At fault

The atrocity yesterday in Istanbul was the fault of the terrorists who carried it out. They have sole responsibility. Those who argue that Tony Blair is responsible are talking rubbish.

The responsibility of our Prime Minister is first and foremost to guarantee (to a reasonable extent) the safety of the British people. The main external threat to that safety is Al Qaeda. There is a reasonable argument to be made that the limited resources we are prepared to spend on defence and security is not being spent in the best way to defeat Al Qaeda, in particular the focus on Iraq is surely drawing men and materiel away from the fight against Al Qaeda.

Iraq cannot be uninvaded, and at present, though this might change, things would probably be made worse by an early withdrawal. But it seems common sense to ask whether for now we have to forget about bring liberty to countries such as Iraq and concentrate our scarce resources in the fight against Al Qaeda.

Furthermore it has to be asked whether Tony Blair has the capacity to deal with this threat. Two things make one sceptical. First is an issue of trust. Most people now believe he is willing ot lie to make the case for war. Thus he will find it harder to convince the public of future threats. Second he seems to lack an ability to focus on the main threat. Few aside from the PM can now believe that, in terms of the national interest and security of the British people, back in March the best use of our stretched armed forces was to depose of Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Royals

Probably the first time in my life I will say something positive about the Royal Family, but I find their seemingly relaxed attitude to security rather admirable. The link is also a fascinating glimpse into the Queen's daily life, including her preference for TV dinners.

The Tories - the party of experience

I was thinking about the fact that my party's 328,000 members have an average age of 65. Many people have ridiculed us for this but in fact I think it is a great source of strength in that it makes us much more experienced. Look at it this way, only 0.56% of people in this country are members of our party. But of the 2.2 billion years for which people in this country have been living (in total), our party members represent 0.97%. That's almost certainly a lot more than the Labour Party.

Torture

When anyone tells you that the US Administration and President Bush are leading a glorious fight for global human rights and democracy instead of falling about laughing remind them of this story.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Curbing my enthusiam

Isn't the blogosphere boring at the moment? All the sites listed on the left remain exceptions (though even the excellent Harry's Place is having one of its periodic lurches to the right -- I blame last week's party for exposing them to bad influences).

Anyway therefore I suggest turning off your broadband and tuning into BBC4, where there is a new series of the brilliant comedy, Curb Your Enthusiam.

Update: Chris Brooke (one of the exceptions to the rule) disagrees with my description of the blogosphere as 'boring' (and use of the phrase blogosphere) with a useful list of sites that might be interesting. He also mentions my superbly interesting (my words, not his) post (if you can call it that given it's about 98% me typing out someone elses work) on Fistful.

Update Ia -- Oh and I do think Curb Your Enthusiam really is good.

Update II: Harry Hatchet disagrees (see comments) with my description of his site as 'lurching to the right' and in particular that drinks with the likes of Peter Cuthbertson made this happen. Well as far as the first bit goes then I'll take it back then and apologise, though I still think that the comments (by the author) in this post like this show a somewhat blase attitude to poverty. On the second point it was a joke. Peter Cuthbertson is probably the most gifted right-wing commentator writing at concom.blogspot.com today, but I don't think much of his powers of persuasion.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Relative poverty

There has been a lot of discussion recently (see here, and see below)of the merits of relative v. absolute poverty, particularly with respect to the measuring of the extent of poverty. The former sets the poverty line (which if you are below you are classed as 'in poverty') as a proportion of median income, currently 60%, whereas the latter is usually set as a fixed amount of money or goods and services one is thought to need to not be in poverty. The debate is often confused because those who argue for the latter tend to be those who would not recognise poverty if it was on their doorstep -- in fact those who do not recognise poverty when it's on their doorstep (strangely thought they think the sky is falling in if anyone suggests those earning over £100,000 a year should pay a little more tax). In fact there is no reason why an absolute poverty level cannot be progressive -- e.g. a rising amount of goods and services or money (or even a falling amounts of money if, say food, is getting cheaper). However that makes it perilously close to a relative measure, so let's for now assume we are talking about a fixed amount (in real terms). (7)

So if it's an absolute measure which we are not going to annually assess, where should we fix it? Usually the advocates of this seem to think that all you require is food and shelter, a view exemplified by Ross Clarke in yesterday's Telegraph who in saying that poverty today was something Dr Barnado would not recognise, presumably wants the poverty line to be where Dr Barnado would have put it.

Well I can't find that out. But in The Road to Wigan Pier (written some time afer Barnado so I am being generous) George Orwell noted that 'As I said earlier, the average unemployed family lives on an income of round about thirty shillings a week, of which at least a quarter goes in rent.'. Presuming the government of the day fixed benefits at an absolute poverty level we can assume that this in the 1930s was 22.5 shillings a week.

Now 22.5 shillings in 1936 has the same purchasing power as £57 does today. So let's set that as the poverty line for a family, not the £242 Barnados has today. Those on £60 a week might be poor, but they are not in poverty. Those families on £100 a week are basically rich. Maybe the Conservative party could adopt it as party policy and set benefits accordingly.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Columbo likes the nightlife

As a great fan of Columbo (my attention span is not good enough for who-dunnits) I was very excited to see on Wednesday that there was a made-for-tv Columbo movie, Columbo likes the nightlife. I recorded it on my fancy new Sky+ box and can now give you a short review.

It was very strange.

First, it was made in 2003. Columbo is about 250 years old. He also sports a tan which Viz would term a 'Nagasaki tan'.

Second, Columbo was investigating a murder in a 'rave' club -- cue lots of embarassing attempts to make the show trendy.

Other than that it was as usual brililant. Columbo put some ridiculous circumstantial evidence together, made some clever insights and found the murderer. Unlike most episodes his case didn't leave you thinking 'any good lawyer will get the defendant off' as he found the murder carrying the dead body.

Anyway I now see that there's a Columbo on every day the week after next. Expect blogging to be light.

1979 Tory manifesto

Cuthie links to the 1978 Tory manifesto, which hitherto has been unpublished. It's a fascinating document, partly because of some strange phrasing which reflects the limited ambitions and better natured debate of the time, e.g. we aim for 'reasonably stable prices', or 'while Labour have not caused all our problems', which would just be 'stable price' and 'Labour have caused all our problems' today, but more generally because how much more intelligent, well-written and basically intellectual it seems than today's manifestos. (1)

And they're off

Excellent. One week into the job and already they're talking about the noose. (4)

An atom bomb under Twickers would set back the cause of fascism in this country by a generation

Rant warning.

Watching England v France at rugby and later planning to watch England v Denmark at football is a profoundly depressing experience. It's always unclear to me why TV execs think fans want ridiculously one-sided commentating, but that's what we get -- England players are mischievous while French ones cheat, blatantly clear French tries are discussed for hours about how maybe the ball didn't touch the ground etc etc. One has to say it's much worse in football -- there the presumption is that the referee is anti-England and plans to cheat. [Addition: The half-time analysis in rugby actually has been very good]

Back to rugby, a game of which I am a recent convert, a newly enjoyable thing after the debate on Crooked Timber (from where the title quote is taken*) over the past week is that it's no longer socially unacceptable to admit you want France to win (or Anyone But England as Dennis Skinner used to say). THis doesn't apply in football but in rugby it always has, partly because most of my rugby friends are Welsh but also because one can't disassociate the rugby team with its moronic support, most of whom in their Hackett shirts are braying as I write, squeezed into pubs in supposedly 'nice' (as far as I can see this is merely because they have a Tootsies burger bar and maybe a Pizza Express) areas of London such as Fulham, Chiswick and of course Twickers itself. The other strange thing is the general view that rugby players are somewhat better than their football playing counterparts. This I suppose is due to a curious mix of class-hatred (working v middle) and money-envy(rich v poor), but it's just not true. International football has never had a scandal to match the fact that the England rugby captain admitted to taking class-A drugs whilst on tour.

* Incidentally although this is a reasonably sound idea I think a few Hacket fascists would survive. A second nuke under the 7am Eastbound District Line at Hammersmith should mop up any remaining. (8)

Saturday, November 15, 2003

And another

He's back! IDS has written another letter to me, enclosing my 3rd membership card and saying together we can win the election. Poor deluded fool. (1)

Friday, November 14, 2003

Mps voting

Public Whip is a fascinating site showing how MPs have voted in the House of Commons since 1997. It gives you all kind of interesting details such as which MPs are closest in their voting. Taking at random the MP for Folkestone and Hythe, Michael Howard, we see his closest voting buddy in this parliament has been none other than Chris Brooke's Tim Collins, Gillian Shephard and Nick Barlow's Eri Forth.

New Look

It's the 14th of November so it's time for a new look. There might be some teething problems but the idea is to be clearer, fresher and more in tune with the needs of my loyal readers. There will be a launch party at the Saatchi Gallery in the forthcoming future.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

More quotes

In fact this book I've dug up, 'Read My Lips, by Matthew Parris and Phil Mason, is full of interesting quotes.

'The unfortunate and temporary imbalance of our Parliamentary party' - Michael Howard, May 2, 1997.

'He has an exquisite way with words' - Anne (that's how it was spelt back in 1997) Widdecombe on Howard, May 1997.

'I see myself as a quite lake of mystery
Woven in a nebulous mist
Foretelling a flood -
Of coloured happiness
While others build arks
To float mistery'

Poem by John Redwood, 1968.

'Sinn Fein wants you to vote Labour' - Darlington Conservative election leaflet, 1997 (could this have been written by a v.young Peter Cuthbertson?!)

Mclean

Hundreds of readers from all corners of my mind have been writing in to ask me to justify my labelling of David Maclean, the Tory Chief Whip [see comments], as 'dreadful'. I need more time, but for now I'll leave you with this:

"Most [street beggars] are Scottish and I've never met one yet who politely and gently asked for money...There are no genuine beggars. Those who are in need have all the social benefits they require...Beggars are doing so out of choice because they find it more pleasant...I always give them something -- I give them a pieice of my mind'.

David Maclean, January 1997

Relative poverty

“Poor people I have met, both in my own country and abroad”, so begins an ASI blog entry, by Dr Madsen Pirie, supposedly one of our country’s foremost right-wing intellectuals. Pirie attacks the concept of ‘relative poverty’, which argues that your living standards depend not just on the absolute amount of money you have but also how much you have compared with the average member of your society.

Pirie comes out with this breathtakingly untrue line, ‘It is also true that as society grows richer, inequalities tend to increase’. Now sadly for the last 25 years or so (oddly enough since him and his gang have been having an input in economic policy) that has been true but hitherto for decades (probably even hundreds of years) it was the case that as western societies got richer, inequalities got smaller.

Now what he sets out to prove isn’t true, it’s perhaps not surprising that his example proving it is so confused. Here it is:

If in a society of two, I earn 80 dollars and the other guy gets 20 dollars, there is inequality. Indeed, since he gets less than half the average, he is poor on the relative definition. Now if we both get twice as rich, I am on 160 dollars, while he is on 40 dollars. The gap has grown from 60 dollars to 120 dollars. So even though everyone is twice as rich as before, 'poverty' has increased. It is a poor definition which allows this.

It might be a poor definition which would allow that, but the relative poverty definition he is attacking certainly doesn’t allow it. In both cases the poorer person has less than half average income so is termed in poverty under that measure. Nothing changes. Yet for some reason Pirie says that using the relative measure would mean one arguing that ‘poverty’ has increased.

It’s quite obvious what he’s done. One of our foremost right-wing intellectuals has misunderstood what ‘half the average’ means. ‘Half’ is simply the average divided by two. If all incomes double, or treble or whatever, the average doubles, or trebles or whatever, and half of the average, doubles, trebles or whatever. Hence relative poverty measured in such a way does not change. It’s the proportional difference between incomes, not the gap between them.

More generally he is also being misleading in the way he characterises relative poverty measures. No-one I’ve read has ever argued that absolute income does not matter, nor that a measure of how much they get to eat, which services they can use and, as Pirie puts it, they have a few ‘simple enjoyments’.

Yet it’s blatantly obvious that relative income matters too. Otherwise Pirie would be arguing that someone earning £10,000 a year today is better off than someone earning £350 a year in 1930. Yet £350 a year in 1930 bought you a solidly middle class income in a middle class that was much smaller than it is today. Or he would be arguing that someone on £30,000 a year today is nearly twice as well off as an MP was in 1950. Seems unlikely.

It ‘s not just a question of status, as important as that is. Access to many goods and services is related to your relative, not absolute income. A good example is supermarkets. As car ownership increased supermarkets began to be located outside of town centres where there was more space. Town centres shops closed. Those who could not afford cars became worse off, even if in monetary terms they were better off than they were before.

Interestingly Websters dictionary defines poverty as,

“the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” That seems about right.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Free for all

Oh dear. What will the US army do next? They've now started shooting dead Mayors who they appointed and who are meant to be on our side.

Bush

I've also just found out that President Bush is going to visit Britain next week. Despite never having been on a political protest in my life (I once got caught up in May Day riots but I'm not sure that counts) I think I will go and boo him if I have nothing else to do. I mean, what has he done to deserve a State visit?*

* Then again on reflection as it means having to spend hours with our terrible Royal Family, perhaps the question answers itself.

A cabinet of all the talents

At Munich airport I purchased the Daily Telegraph to be greeted by the headline 'lean, mean fighting machine' in reference to the new Conservative shadow cabinet. Given the headline what followed was bound to be a disappointment but here, for what it's worth, is my view on it all.

First, when the best leader you can come up with when the whole party is momentarily focused on winning the general election is Michael Howard (whose main claim to fame, his period as home secretary, actually saw a 22% increase in violent crime), you can't really expect much from a shadow cabinet.

Thus second, cutting it down to a smaller size was the only thing he could do. Once Hague, Portillo and Clarke refused to take part he really only has one or two competent colleagues.

Three, and even they aren't that competent. Oliver Letwin as shadow chancellor?! Oh dear, oh dear, which is a shame given he was quite good (by the standards of his colleagues) in his previous position. Instead we get the dreadful David Mclean [non-stealth edit -- I'm still pretty sure that I was mislead by either the FT, Telegraph or Independent -- but actually Maclean (I can't even spell it right) remains Chief Whip], a man so right-wing when he was a minister Michael Howard used to have to censure his speeches.

So overall a pretty poor show, even though he only had 165 Mps to choose from (incidentally the BBC says that in one way or another 100 have been given jobs!!!!).

Friday, November 07, 2003

Off again

I'll be off until Tuesday on another holiday so I will leave you with this thought - now Michael Portillo is retiring as my MP at the next electoin it will mean that Ken & Chelsea will have had four MPs from the same party in about 7 or 8 years (Dudley Fishburn, Alan Clark, Michael Portillo, The One After Michael Portillo). Is this a record?*

* Looking it up it appears that Sir Nicholas Scott was MP for Ken & Chelsea, Chelsea when Dudley Fishburn was MP for Ken & Chelsea, Kensington. Did the two seats merge in 1997? Anyway, Scott was deselected for being found drunk in the street.

Holiday showdown

Stuck in last night with only five tv channels (Sky+ is arrive today...thank god) I found myself watching 'Holiday Showdown'. This was a dreadful programme in which one family took another on their favourite holiday and then they swapped places. If you didn't watch it there is much point in reading on but I feel like ranting.

It was made worse by the unfortunate (or fortunate for the producers) fact that one family, the Theodores, came across (I am aware that TV can, and probably did, misrepresent them) as some of the most obnoxious people you could ever meet.

Labelled the 'posh' family, and clearly thinking themselves a cut above the rest of population, they usually holidayed in luxury holiday resorts in places like Borneo. The Glass family, the 'working-class' family took them camping in Newquay.

For Mr Theodore nothing was good enough. Bizarrely given he had chosen to be on this programme he began moaning from the off and never stopped, saying they would not enjoy themselves which became self-fulfilling. Holidays in Britain were beneath him and his terribly Mary Archer-esque stuck-up wife (who I think bought caviar in Safeway -- does anyone do that?). Newquay was 'a horrible place'. On a walk along beautiful coastal scenery his children could only manage a mile and a half.

For the second half of the holiday Mr Theodore flew them to a resort complex in Borneo. Here is pretensions to class became ever more apparent as he warbled on about 'this is what holidays should be like -- luxury'. Sadly the holiday appeared to be 1) fly 28 hours to an exotic foreign country, 2) hadly ever leave the resort. Even more sad was how desperately the Theodores wished to appear classy when everything they did suggested the opposite.

Meanwhile the Glass familiy came out of it rather well (except for one unfortunate incident) -- clearly saying that they liked the Theodore's kind of a holiday but then again as it was costing £500 a day, they would, wouldn't they?


Thursday, November 06, 2003

Exclusive -- what they're all currently thinking

An exclusive to this site.

An insight into the mind of a typical member of the blogosphere right-wing.

"Mmmm...even the Spectator is now calling Iraq a 'quagmire'. And it's saying that the British are very angry with the Americans. Oh dear. Do I support the Americans or the British? I am British, but I really prefer America and all its shiny weapons. And its belief in freedom. Oh well I'll rubbish the story. But I can't blame this one on BBC bias, or even liberal media bias. It's Boris's organ after all, and he's one of us. Shall I say 'oh it's only Max Hastings -- a notorious Americanphobe? Well here goes ... 'Old pinko yellow Maxy, the famous ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph and celebrated war correspondent' -- no, doesn't quite sound right either. Who else can I blame? I could blame a fifth-column at home. Yet Johann tried that last week and it sounded a bit desperate then. What about the French? Not really -- last week I was attacking them for not taking part. Oh well time for the usual then -- hands over ears, close your eyes and repeat after me, "September 11th, September 11th, September 11th, September 11th, September 11th, September 11th"

Money

Some people take Samizdata seriously so I thought I would give it a go. The first post I see is this damning indictment of those who whom the authors lumps together as believing that 'money doesn't make you happier'. Check out the searing analysis...

More money, more happiness

Today my salary appeared in my bank account. I'm definitely happier than I was yesterday, when my bank account contained a very little indeed. The conventional wisdom is that I shouldn't be happier. "Money doesn't make you happier," the anti-progress crowd say.

But if that was true, then Africans who get clean water for the first time aren't any happier than when their children were dying from disease. OK, maybe the anti-progressites merely mean that once you get to a certain basic income, earning any more from that point doesn't make you happier. Really?

Let's take a young family who pay fees to send their children to school. It's a bit of a struggle paying the fees. If they had a bit more money, they wouldn't have to worry about it. Would that do nothing for their happiness? Or let's say environmentalists had their way and they had less money. The fees would become much more of a burden. Surely that would make them less happy?

General elections

I though this chart on Chris's site was an interesting way of displaying election results (Cambridge parliamentary in that case) so I thought I would reproduce it to show post-1945 general elections. The quality is a bit crappy but you should get the point. The x axis is the Labour share of the vote, the y axis the Tory share of the vote. By assuming that those two parties plus the Lib Dems take 100% of the vote it also shows the Lib Dem share of the vote (shown by the lines marked Lib Dem 40%, LIb Dem 20% etc).

The coloured areas represent where the parties have a plurality of the votes (it says majority -- I can't be bothered to change it now), not importantly of seats. The squares show election results. Clearly one can see how badly Labour did from 1979 to 1992, how the Tories held their share of the vote over that period, and how they've slumped since.


ps I have now added the seats won at elections. It's even more confusing because the Tories' disastrous showing in 1997 and 2001, and Labour's near disastrous showing in 1983 require a large scale, but most results are quite close together. Nevertheless it confirms Chris Brooke's point about Labour making some gains between 1983 and 1987 whereas William Hague in 1997 didn't.

pps Following Chris L's comments I have now adjusted the seats chart to show actual majorities -- ie where the parties got more than 50% of the votes, wiht the bit in the middle showing hung parliaments. Chris also points out that in reality there are more than three parties, though for seats at least I don't think this is a major problem because they get so few seats (particularly if you exclude the N.Irish parties).

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Sweeping generalisations

Den Beste gives his views on Europe

"That's not a characterization of Europeans I recognize. I would suggest instead the word effete, for which my dictionary offers three meanings:

1. decadent: characterized by decadence, overrefinement, or overindulgence
2. weak: lacking or having lost the strength or ability to get things done
3. barren: no longer able to reproduce"

This man is considered -- by Kevin Drum no less - as one of the six most read right-wing weblogs. What's particularly amusing, or ironic, is the post is in response to an article in the Telegraph by Adam Nicholson which notes that American media commentators talk about Europe like people used to talk about countries they were at war with.

How we miss him...

Iain Duncan Smith in today's Independent,

"Not really. One of the books I love is DH Lawrence's great book about Alexandria."

"I didn't realise he'd written one," I say.

"Well, more a series of books, The Alexandria Quartet."

"I think that's by Lawrence Durrell."

"Yeah, yeah," says Duncan Smith, ignoring the interruption, "but I love the way he opens chapters with descriptions of weather, and they set the whole scene for the rest of the chapter. Please don't for a moment think I'm trying to compare myself with him, because I'm not - but the reason I write this way is because I disagree with straight-up-and-down thrillers in which so much of that stuff is knocked to one side and it's all dialogue."

Monday, November 03, 2003

Adopt-a-Tory-MP

The continuing mess that is the Tory party should give all of us who believe in democracy cause for concern. In our parliamentary system the lack of an effective opposition, even a Conservative one, makes for worse policy-making.

However at present there seems little hope that the Tories can make a comeback. Current opinion polls put Labour 38% to 35% ahead on those certain to vote, on the unadjusted figures it is more like 42% to 31%.

In that spirit therefore I think all of my readers who call themselves democrats should sign up to my latest idea to rescue the party, Adopt-a-Tory MP. Now don't get too concerned, I don't literally mean you have to adopt a Tory MP as you migh adopt a 5-year old boy (much as it might appeal to their public-school memories). Instead it will be like Adopt-a-Donkey except without the £15 payment.

All that will be required is to keep a close eye on their career, publicising their achievements, giving helpful comments where necessary and mild but constructive criticism when needed. Hopefully this will encourage them to believe in themselves and give them a little boost when it comes to the next election.

So far there are some obvious candidates for bloggers. Chris Brooke has been showing an interest in Tim Collins, while perhaps Nick Barlow could be persuaded to adopt Eric Forth?

Incidentally one thing many people forget about the Conservatives out of power compard with when they are in power is that -- nearly by definition -- they have fewer MPs. This means less talent for the front bench, but it also means less obnoxious backbenchers. I mean who now mourns the MP for Welywn, David Evans, who so charmingly began his fight to keep his seat in 1997 with this attack on his main opponent, "a single girl, lives with her boyfriend, three bastard children, never done a proper job".

ps I have been overwhelmed with the positive response (see comments). To others however I must point out that adoption is a serious business and those who said 'Ooh can I have Boris Johnson' or 'I want that cute little Alan Duncan' have to realise that a Tory MP is probably for life, not just this parliament.

Food and the 'Electronically Wired'

I received the Conservative Party magazine, 'Heartland', the day IDS fell.

It contains a slightly unfortunate article about The Great Man, in which it says 'he answered his media critics'. Perhaps he should have concentrated on answering his parliamentary critics...

But what most worries me is the state of the party's youth support. An article, 'Engaging the 20 and 30 somethings' is an absolute classic on how to get that age group (my age group!) involved in politics.

There are 5 key factors.
One, friendship -- it appears we 'have a high commitment to friendship'. So 'networkers' in the party are told to go and make friends with young people. Young people, beware!
Two, Fun. We are 'disillusioned with politics' and so the association has to 'not present itself as a caricature of a typical local political group'. 'Single issues' has more 'appeal' than politics. Associations have to 'ask a handful of creative people in your association' to generate some 'out of the box ideas' for 'approaches and events that young people will really enjoy'. Cool!
Three, Focus. Young people 'are sometimes accused by their elders of having a short attention span. Whether that's true or not, the kind of events they like are fast-moving, with a strong sense of focus. If you expose them to a traditional local association meeting, you'll never see them again'.
Four, Food. The young it appears 'work longer hours than previous generations' and 'their spare time is spent hanging out with friends or going to the gym'. But, prepare yourselves, 'they still need to eat'. So,'find someone on the association with a flair for hospitality, and set them loose'.
Five, Follow through. 'The twenties and thirties generation' (I'm not making this up, really) 'are electronically wired'. So 'it's critical to maximise the use of electronic communications'. You need to 'seek out an association member who is computer literate'.

How successful is this strategy being in attractive 'youth' members? Let's assume that advertisers aren't stupid, and know their target audiences. Here's the adverts in order (with none missed out) in this month's Heartland:

Accountants
Retirement investment advice
Vitamins 'for a healthy lifespan'
Wine
Savile Row shirts
Medical insurance for the over 50s
Retirement homes on the South coast
Leg 'relaxa-stool' supporter
Margaret Thatcher books
'Back-care' chairs
'Easy-bather' bath aid
Typewriter
Pensioners hearing aid
Branded 'comfort stretch' trousers
Reproduction antique gramophone

Michael Howard

The only interesting thing I saw about Michael Howard over the weekend is he is opposed to capital punishment. Not really bombshell stuff given it's not been a live political issue in Britain for over 20 years, and is supported nowhere except in the loonier reaches of the Tory party and among a tiny minority of the British population (something like 70%).