Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Better anti-Racism, please!

Sunny Hundal rightly takes Ron Liddle to task over his Sunday times piece arguing that there was really nothing at all racist about what James McGrath said. For those unfamiliar with the controversy, James McGrath was one of Borris Johnson's staff at City Hall who, when confronted with Darcus Howe's suggestion that “Boris Johnson, a right-wing Conservative, might just trigger off a mass exodus of older Caribbean migrants back to our homelands”, came out with this little gem:

“Well, let them go if they don’t like it here.”

He was subsequently fired City Hall, presumably because this sort of stuff doesn't fit with the Cameron/Johnson "Cuddly Conservatism" (or whatever the hell it's called) branding strategy.

Now obviously it was racist. Notwithstanding his insistence that he's obviously right, Liddle's arguments to the contrary are really pretty weak:

Clearly he meant that people, regardless of their ethnic origin, who had no wish to stay in London while Johnson was mayor could clear off.

This is silly. It would be poltical suicide to suggest that anyone who didn't like Johnson's policies could clear off. Politicians, on being told that their policies might lead to a mass exodus of a certain group, aren't usually in the habit of responding that they don't give a shit, because having policies that cause people to want to leave the place is usually thought of as a bad thing. Most accomplished apparatchiks would thus have come out with a list of reasons for why their policies would actually do good and wonderful things for the elderly Afro-Carribean community, whether or not that was the case, because most politicians try not to alienate any constituency unless they have a good reason.

Look at it another way: if Ken Livingstone had come out with the same response on being told that such and such a proposal would lead to an exodus of the middle classes, the Tories would have, entirely correctly, branded him a class warrior and tried to make political capital out of it.

Incidentaly, it probably didn't take a genius strategist at Tory HQ to realise that this guy was political poison and needed to be got rid of. Would you really want to have the opposition waving the “Well, let them go if they don’t like it here” slogan at you every time you passed a policy that was going to have some sort of adverse effect on minorities? McGrath's statement on the incident, where he claims he's " felt that this suggestion [by Howe] was ridiculous and intended as a slur" shows that the Tories have a pretty good idea of where the flak will be coming from.

Liddle would have to be quite spectacularly naive not to understand this, so it's probably safe to conclude that he's not really playing with a straight bat, and that his outrage over "the stifling of free, plain speaking and, by extension, plain thinking" is really a Trojan Horse for something a bit less enlightened, as Hundal rightly points out.

But from this promising start, he manages to kick what I see as a bit of an own goal, by saying that the problem with Liddle and McGrath is that they're "feeding a racist narrative":

Telling minority groups to go somewhere else if they don’t like it here has long been part of the racist agenda perpetuated by the fascist British National Party (BNP) that says that these people might be born and bred in the UK, but they’ll never be truly British.

That might be part of the problem, but it's not really the problem, or at least it's a very weak way of phrasing it. Government investment in British firms has long been part of the BNP racist agenda, but no-one would reasonably suggest that that's a reason to stop doing it. Liddle has some easy fun on this account:

And here’s the justification for the sacking: one commentator, Sunny Hundal, said that telling black people to clear off “has deep associations with BNP language and terminology”. Another said: “We have heard similar comments from racists.” So in fact nobody suggested that McGrath had been racist – he clearly hadn’t – merely that racists had said the same sort of thing in the past. So now you can be done not for being racist per se, but for saying things that aren’t actually racist but that people who are known to be racist might have said. Bizarre.

Hundal tries to refute all this by pointing out that he was saying something that echoed the BNP and that racist narratives matter, and they do, but this seems to me to miss the important point, which is that McGrath didn't deny the basic premise! I mean come on: Journalist suggests that Johnson will make old black folk leave the country, Mayor's aide says that's fine by him? The way the aide chose to phrase that sentiment is not the big story here. The story is that he's done nothing to deny the suggestion that Johnson's policy agenda is racist. This should have triggered off a round of folk looking to put some meat on the bones, digging up various Johnson policy statements and taking them apart to see whether the dots joined up into some sort of stealth immigration policy, which could then be used to beat him every time he tried to sneak through policies that seemed to work against minorities. The point would be to try and make any covert racism explicit, and racist narratives may be a part of that picture, but they aren't the whole thing. If there's any of that around, I've not been able to find it.

More generally, I think Liddle's on strong ground when he argues that the concern with what people say is coming at the expense of what they do, although I disagree with him in thinking that this is something that hurts socially conservative politics. By focusing on the rhetorical aspects of policy, people who focus on anti-racist narratives can end up working as a fairly effective vetting office for making sure that racist sentiment doesn't slip out. The last line of Marc Wadsworth's original piece about McGrath illustrates the point nicely:

Curtly, [McGrath] added: “I get where you are on the radar, sunshine.” Again, not a politically correct thing to say to a Black person. But, hey, these Tories have not yet been running the show in London for a 100 days. They will have to learn quicker than the London traffic or fall on their sword.

If the plan is just to teach the Tories how to disguise their racist polices better, then anti-racist campaigning in the UK is in a pretty fucked-up state.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Proof That Sometimes Good Can Come From Catastrophe

Oh yes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Was going to leave this as a comment on Steve's post, but it seems to have spiraled out of control. Anyway, while I can't speak for Steve, my personal problem with folks like Mr. Carpenter isn't so much that they love to flaunt their cynicism in the face of everyone else's idealism (though that is annoying), or that they're shamelessly re-writing history to suit their purposes (Kerry not pandering to the base? Puh-lease!). My point is that I think they dismiss the cynical case for opposition to telecoms immunity, or rather they ignore it completely.

And it's really not a difficult point to understand. McCain sat on a telecoms oversight committee, and has generally looked pretty friendly with the telcos for a while now, and Obama's been partly running (very successfully) on a platform of bashing the disproportionate influence of lobbyists in Washington. Now obviously he's also been running on the idea of being a post-partisan uniter, but if he did vote against it, and McCain did try to come after him on it, this is stuff he could legitimately bring up. "Well John, you make a good point about security, but my feeling was that the FISA bill was more of a sop to the telecoms industry than a security bill proper. A government handout. Kind of like those earmarks which you're saying will pay for the war when you cut them. Say, who's that back there holding your briefcase?"

OK, maybe something a little more polished than that, but you get the idea. Now at this point P.M.'s probably gesturing towards those hordes of unwashed "low information voters" who'll shit themselves when the Reps say that Obama's interested in letting t'rurists sue good American companies. I don't doubt that there's a goodly number of mouth-breathers who think that any backsliding on Bush's wonderful record on terrorism will immediately result in a mushroom cloud over Des Moines, but I think the usual term for them is the McCain base. Also, if you can keep discussion focussed on what it is the telcos are actually getting granted immunity for (not, to be fair, an easy task), then we're into a wonderful, wacky X-Files world that should flick the conspiracy theory switches on even the dumbest Bible-bashers: "Well, the President just pretty much went up to these companies and said, 'You have to put all the calls in America through the government,'" or something like that.

Now I'm not claiming that this would be easy, and I don't doubt that McCain would come out all guns blazing trying to claim that it was a wonderful bill and Obama's haggling over some petty detail that no-one cares about anyway and this is irresponsible in the extreme and shows that he's not nearly enough of a flyboy bad-ass to be leading the country and Ahmedinajad'll laugh at him in the playground and all the same tired Republican bullshit that they've been throwing for the last two years.

So it becomes a question of who can frame the debate best. Can Obama steer it towards lobbying, corruption and civil liberties, or can McCain manage to keep the focus on the nasty men with beards who would blow everyone up if Bush hadn't devised the terribly effective counter-measure of listening to the telephone conversations of everyone in the USA?

Might look like an uphill struggle for Obama, but he has more funds, he's ahead in the polls, he's showed he knows how to run a campaign, and everyone has spent the past six months spunking themselves about what a great orator he is, so I don't think we have to assume it's necessarily beyond his capacity. And the rewards are big. Take away the perception that McCain's a straight-shooting guy who knows how to run a war on terror, and what does he have left to run on? Somewhere between diddly and squat.

But say I'm wrong, and it'd be a ludicrous gamble with dubious pay-offs, and Obama has regretfully made the right move. Fine. If Carpenter was to explain why that's the case, and try to convince people, I'm sure they'd bite the bullet. Instead, he's just trying to cover for the fact that the Democrats can't seem to sell their ideas on Homeland Security as well as the Republicans by sounding like a tosser.

Labels: , ,

There He Goes Again

BuzzFlash's P.M. Carpenter still just doesn't get it while, ironically, lambasting us lefties for what he perceives as a similar intellectual failing. The FISA betrayal and shredding of the Constitution that it entails apparently just isn't that important unless you're some kind of political simpleton. Go figure.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whatever happened to those heroes?

Larry Lessig says we should all just chill out about Obama's recent mis-steps. Being a bit of a cynic, I'd almost be prepared to agree with regards to finance, but on FISA, I really think he and many of his posters are misdiagnosing the problem.

Their basic argument seems to be that yes, telecom immunity is bad, but they have bigger fish to fry and this looks like a political loser.

But the key thing we need to keep in focus is what the objective here is. This is a hugely complex chess game. (Or I'm assuming it's complex, since how else can you explain losing twice (ok once) to this President.) The objective of this chess game is to keep focus on the issues that show America why your candidate should win. Keeping focus (in this media environment, at least) is an insanely difficult task. But one tool in that game is picking the fights that resonate in ways that keep focus on the issues that show America why your candidate should win.

So if I'm reading him right, he's saying Obama needs to keep focus on the economy, climate change, etc. and not cede points to the Republicans by getting into a debate about terrorism, which is their home turf.

Put more simply, his point is basically that you shouldn't go picking a fight with Republicans about matters of national security.

To which I really have to ask: Why the hell not?

Republicans have been showing themselves to be incompetent about matters of national security for the last seven years, why on earth do people think that the only way Democrats can win is by pussy-footing around the issue. Up until this point, Obama was doing a good job of turning this conventional wisdom on its head, making headway with such perceived acts of political hara-kiri as suggesting he'd negotiate with Iran.

This is partly because he dresses very nicely and gives a good speech, but also because he does have an awful lot of reality on his side. When he talks about how Iran seems to have halted nucleur development, or how sanctions to Cuba aren't necessarily acheiving the desired effects, he does at least have the advantage of having the weight of expert opinion on his side. That doesn't count for as much as it should in US politics, but it's not nothing.

Telecoms immunity seems to me to be one of those cases. Most experts will tell you that huge dragnet surveillance type systems (like plugging all US telecomunications through the NSA) are great for monitoring the population a large, but useless for targetting specific individuals who know they might be under surveilace and are doing their best to avoid it. You can catch the "sort-of-bad" with these systems, but the "really bad" will slip through the net. If you have a serious look at the issue, that's something that should become clear, so I'm not sure that shying away from that argument is the brilliant act of political strategy that Lessig thinks it is.

This is particularly upsetting because Lessig is the sort of enlightenment guy who spends half his life trying to explain stuff like this, and the other half being vexed about how politics tends to get these sorts of "easy questions" wrong. And his usual explanation for why they get it wrong is that there's not enough public scrutiny. This is why he gets involved in lots of technology-based projects to make congress more transparent.

So from that point of view, this shouldn't look to him like an issue to shy away from for Obama. It should, in fact, look like a golden opportunity: take the right side on FISA and dare the Republicans to come after you on it. If they want to have a debate about their unconstitutional and ineffective surveillance practices in the glaring light of an election campaign, then good fucking luck to them.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Monday!

Here's one cheery bit of reading for this Monday evening. And here's another.


Labels: , , ,

The Constant Promise of Jam Tomorrow

P.M. Carpenter over at BuzzFlash tells all of us lefties to, in so many words, just shut up and lump it in relation to Barack Obama's early abandonment of some of the very ideals and principles that inspired so many people to support him with an energy and enthusiasm arguably unseen since the ill-fated campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. After all, Carpenter tuts, the goal is victory in November rather than righteousness in June and, once the former has been achieved, St. Barack will go back to being the principled and visionary leader who got us all worked up in the first place.

When have we heard this kind of nonsense before?

While there are certainly clear differences between the situations - Barack Obama is not, insofar as anyone can tell, on a crusade to modernize and overhaul the Democratic Party in a quest to appeal to Middle America in the way that Tony Blair dragged Labour rightwards to appeal to Middle England - the hopes that a politician will return to some kind of left-of-centre principles and policies after the business of getting elected has been achieved have, more often than not, proven to be misplaced before and seem just as likely to prove a fallacy now. Politics, we are so often reminded in times like these, is a cynical and merciless business that more often than not leaves a trail of disillusionment in its wake.

Caveat emptor.

Labels: , ,

There is a special circle of hell saved for William Kristol

Asked to guess the eventual Obama/McCain winner, most sensible folk are picking Obama at the moment. The man has a commanding lead in the polls, and he's a Democrat running against a Republican during an economic downturn. My money's on Obama, but with the caveat that there's always the possibility of a succession of wild-card events that could turn the tables: a dreadful political fumble, the revelation of some sort of embarrassing private secret, John McCain getting a clue. Or they could just go the Hillary route and shoot him.

If some sort of national security crisis came up, there's also a perception that this would do wonders for McCain's chances, as Republicans are perceived as being strong on that. This is doubly the case now that Obama's moved away from trying to challenge that perception and back towards trying to shore it up. So a big terrorist attack, or another war, would do wonders for keeping the Reps in the White House.

This is why I've been eyeing the combined efforts of Israel and the US to kick off with Iran, in spite of the fact that the CIA says they've stopped with the nucleur programme, with increasing unease. Even I thought they'd try and dress it up a little better than this, though:

Yes, you heard that right. Will Kristol is trying to spread the idea that it would be legitimate to bomb Iran if, and only if, it looked like the Democrats might win.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Buyer's Remorse Part II

David Brooks, in an op-ed in the New York Times, suggests yet more reasons for concern about St. Barack aside from the whole shameful FISA sell-out.

Campaign finance reform appears to be going out the window yet again, ushered out by

...a phalanx of big money bundlers, including, according to The Washington Post, Kenneth Griffin of the Citadel Investment Group; Kirk Wager, a Florida trial lawyer; James Crown, a director of General Dynamics; and Neil Bluhm, a hotel, office and casino developer.

So, that's Wall Street bigwigs, high-profile lawyers, emissaries of the military-industrial complex and big-time property developers? Forces of social progress and enlightenment all, we're sure... and perhaps you'd also be interested in our attractive portfolio of Florida waterfront properties.

The champion of a so-called "New Politics" suddenly looks about as sincere and progressive as the champion of a "New Labour" once did. It's increasingly looking wiser and more astute to cease making Barack-Obama-as-the-new-JFK comparisons and to start making Obama-as-the-new-Tony-Blair ones instead.

The left has been cruelly and cynically betrayed before and, it appears, should begin lowering its expectations now before allowing its heart to be broken and its energy and idealism to be stubbed out yet again.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Train not in vain

Check out IPEzone for a discussion of the impact of fuel prices on railways:

Given that car ownership is becoming an increasingly iffy economic proposition with gas prices averaging over $10 a gallon here in addition to various other hassles ranging from unaffordable parking to congestion charging schemes, it is no surprise that the train is regaining its relevance. Both the Financial Times and the BBC have recent articles on plans by Network Rail to expand their lines in the coming years as people start boarding more trains. As the BBC notes, even the environmental brigade is on board.

Although that last sentence does strike me as a little weird: surely the "environmental brigade" would be the first to get "on board" (this particular brigade must be the marines of the environmental movement) for improved mass transit? Or are we just assuming that all those benighted communist Luddites will be hostile to anything that smacks of economic sense?

Anyway, wahey!

Labels: ,

I would pay money to watch that Primary

Apropos of nothing except that I really need to stop wasting my time looking at right-wing blogs (and American wing blogs at that), I found this comment by one of Ross Douthat's readers much, much better than the post that inspired it. The topic is under what conditions the Republicans could explode as a political coalition:

One intriguing and rather sci-fi possibility is if biotechnology, or the interaction of technology and the human body and the environment more broadly, becomes a much more salient issue down the road. I could imagine one party becoming much more protectionist and preservationist (anti-globalization, anti-abortion, anti-genetics, pro-union, pro-religion) while the other becomes much more quote-unquote libertarian, no matter what (pro-business, lightly anti-state, pro-genetic manipulation [even in humans], pro-gay rights, globalist, pro-immigration, MOR secularist).

Green Huckabites vs. Dawkinsite Free-traders? How 'bout it?

Someone tell Charles Stross to get to work on it.

Labels: ,

Let the buyer's remorse begin.

Obviously we all knew that Obama would be a little disappointing eventually, but this seems like too much too soon. Not like he can fall back on Bush's "Well, I was going to read the constitution but it's got a lot of big words in it" excuse, either:

It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people

Additional steps!? Has someone been reading the Gordon Brown terrorism-hard-man-posturing playbook?

Update: Tim Lee explains why this sort of thing is ultimately a losing game for Democrats:

We are, in other words, right back to the narrative where being “strong” on national security means trashing the constitution. Within that frame, Democrats are always going to lose because they’re never going to be as enthusiastic about Constitution-trashing as the Republicans (well, I hope so anyway. Bill Clinton did his best). So by conceding the premise and saying, in effect, “we can trash the constitution too!” the Democrats were setting themselves up for future political problems. Because if the Democrats are carbon copies of the Republicans on national security issues, why not go for the real thing?

This is doubly disappointing because until now Obama has been a master at re-framing national security debates to get out of this box. Unlike John Kerry, he has refused to shy away from a confrontational posture on foreign policy issues. He’s shown a willingness to say he has a better foreign policy vision, rather than simply insisting he can be just as tough on the terrorists as the Republicans are. He could and should have done the same with FISA, taking the opportunity to explain why warrantless surveillance isn’t necessary to protect us from the terrorists. But it seems he, along with Steny Hoyer and Harry Reid, chickened out. So it’s back to Republicans being tough on national security and Democrats defensively insisting that they, too, hate terrorists more than they love the constitution.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"When you absolutely, positively have to kill every motherfucker in the room..."

David Osler provides a much better researched and less snarky take on the FT arms trade story at Liberal Conspiracy. I particularly liked this:

Can there be any justification for extensive state involvement in times when all other industries are left to prosper or flounder according to the market? Why the throwback to 1970s-style dirigisme?

The argument is often advanced that the making weapons provides employment. This is patently spurious; military exports sustain just 60,000 jobs, around 0.2% of the UK workforce.

In employment terms, that puts it roughly on a par with kebab shops. Moreover, the skills of these workers are directly transferable to socially useful applications, and could be better used elsewhere.

Quite. So long as we're going to plough state money hi-tech projects, it's not really that hard to think of worthier candidates. I'd go for clean energy and better transport and communications infrastructure, but you're free to pick your own. Just not weapons.

Labels: ,

More on Davis

About half the folks over at the Liberal Conspiracy blog seem to have their knickers in a twist about whether supporting David Davis would somehow sully their ideological purity. Rachel from North London explains why it's not really that hard, whilst stopping for some good old fashioned belly-laughs at the Sun's efforts to surf the hard-man populist Zeitgeist going from this:

HAS David Davis gone stark raving mad? How else can we explain his silly act of self-styled martyrdom? The Shadow Home Secretary rambled on about making some sort of “noble” protest.
But what was he protesting about?

To this:

Davis has hit the nail on the head. We HAVE allowed ourselves to be browbeaten by fears of Islamic terror attacks into abandoning too many of our freedoms — something I have said for months. Many Sun readers agree with me.

They aren’t soft on terror any more than I am.

But like me they worry that this is ceasing to be a country we feel at ease in, or the country we once knew.

A country of ID cards and databases, secret cameras, tax snoopers who can barge into your house and council spies who can fine you £200 just for dropping a crisp.

All in the space of a weekend. Worth reading her piece in full, and I can't think of anything very sensible to add to it, except to say that it also served as a welcome reminder of why I try to stay the hell away from Sun editorials. Check out exhibts a and b here:

Most Sun readers will instinctively support 42 days’ detention without trial for terror suspects if it helps prevent an atrocity on the streets of Britain.


We HAVE allowed ourselves to be browbeaten by fears of Islamic terror attacks into abandoning too many of our freedoms — something I have said for months. Many Sun readers agree with me.

Ok, fuck-nuts: crash course in how this whole journalism thing is meant to work. I read your nasty little rag, I have a sniff of the excrement you're trying to pass off as coherent thought ("If 42 days is so brilliant, how come Brown couldn’t get enough of his MPs to support it?") and then I decide whether or not I agree with you. In all probability, I actually decide that you should be dropped from a high-altitude aircraft and then kick myself for wasting five minutes of my life. But even in the rare event that I do agree with your basic point, that's for me to say, and you to shut the hell up about. There is something decidedly creepy about a columnist explicitly telling his readers what they think.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Where there's a Will...

I'm often quite a fan of Will Hutton - the man makes an honest attempt to do joined up thinking about big issues without being either overly conventional or deliberately contrarian, and he writes well. Everyone, for example, should check out his book on China - The Writing on the Wall. (A lot's been made about the supposedly Western-centric nature of his focus on "enlightenment institutions", but I'm not really seeing it myself. As far as I can tell, he's happy with any institutions that would allow for more transparency and certainty of economic and political action in China. Whether they come couched in quotes from Voltaire and Hume is not really the issue.)

That said, there is a sort of men-in-suits-power-politics smugness to the man that occassionally gets right up my scruffy little student nose. Of course he'd probably be delighted about this, since it puts him right up there with J K Galbraith and John Maynard Keynes himself in his whole "us experts are here to provide enlightened government for you little folk" approach. They're not necessarily worng, but it can still make you want to punch them.

Anyway, this is all a preamble to talking about his recent piece where he whinges on about how those dreadful benighted oiks in Ireland have been lead astray by the forces of darkness and set the course of human progress an incalculable amount by voting no to the Lisbon treaty:

Eurosceptics celebrate a triumph of the little people against the Euro juggernaut. Ireland's 'no' vote against the treaty on the European constitution is, in such minds, the brave assertion of democracy against bureaucracy. The European elite in Brussels, with its dark plans to hobble Europeans everywhere, deserves a good kicking for producing an unloved, incomprehensible set of reforms. It has got it. Ireland has stood up for Europe.

This is nonsense from top to bottom, a farrago of lies and disinformation. The European Union is a painfully constructed and fragile skein of compromises that allows 27 democratic states on our shared continent to come together and drive forward areas of common interest to further their citizens' well-being. The elite that plots this is a nonexistent phantom invented by populist demagogues. The beleaguered, unloved treaty would have improved Europe's effectiveness and tried to address its much talked about democratic weaknesses.

The reality is that Ireland's 'no' voters have trashed an EU that is precious but weak. Most 'no' voters, grabbing on to the worst fear rather than reasoned fact, have unknowingly set in train a political dynamic that, unless carefully handled, could lead not just to Ireland but Britain leaving the EU. Everybody will be the poorer.

And so on.

What annoys me about this isn't so much that I think he's wrong about Europe, as that he moves so quickly to dismiss all the popular concerns about it as just so much parochial piffle. Populist phantom? Really? I mean, if there really was absolutely elite bureaucracy handing out favours to its mates in the European Parliament, that'd make the institution pretty much a unique case in the history of government.

Doubtless I sound like a dreadful hick, but the EU looks to me to be encouraging as much shameless venality as the average opaque-institution-in-a-position-to-hand-out-big-favours. Just today Europe's leading IP experts have sent a joint letter to Barroso telling him to stop handing out special favours to big music at the expense of economic efficiency and the general public good, so at least on the things I know about, it looks like business as usual.

Those who really want European integration to succeed need to get started on making it more accountable, transparent and democratic, instead of just sitting there whinging about how all the little people don't know what's good for them.

Where's the love?

Britain is now, apparently the world's arm's dealer of choice. We used to be stuck down in sixth, but we've now hit the top spot, thanks in large part to contracts with Saudi Arabia. From the FT:

Lord Jones, trade and investment minister, said: “As demonstrated by this outstanding export performance, the UK has a first class defence industry with some of the world’s most technologically sophisticated companies.”

Ian Godden, chief executive of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, said: “We are proud that the UK defence industry remains a world leader. This success is built on investment made in the 1990s and, if we are to continue to reap these economic benefits in the future, this investment will need to be maintained.”

Seems a little ungracious of these folk not to give a big shout-out to Tony Blair and Lord Goldsmith. If you're going to ask the government for more hand-outs, surely you should at least acknowledge some of the services already rendered.

David Davis

Should really just point out that, while I never expected to be saying this, I'm backing David Davis to the hilt. Argued with a few folk about this, and while, yes, he may be showing signs of egomania, and, no, this obviously doesn't mean he's right about everything, he's with the angels on this one.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Stupidest Huffington Post article ever.

Mary Battiata offers up the worst reason to vote Obama yet suggested. I was going to mock, but I can't come up with any way to make the article sound more ridiculous than it already is. Actually, fuck it, I'll give it a go.

From the top:

Lately I've been wondering what an Obama White House might mean for...

For what Mary? Climate change? International trade? US-China relations? US health policy? What momentous change do you see Obama ushering in?

the future of bling.

Er, right. I guess all those other topics have been kind of done to death. I hadn't really thought about the Obama line on bling. Do enlighten us.

What if January 20, 2009 turned out to be not just a cultural and clothing pivot point for adults -- a return to the minimalism of sleek, 60s-era sharkskin suits, the containment of golf-ball sized Barbara Bush costume pearls -- but a watershed fashion moment for teenaged boys?

OK. Why would that happen? Did teenagers start going in for Bush's strange mix of cowboy hats and plutocrat-chic after 2001?

On Inauguration Day next year, thousands and thousands of young men and boys from city street corners to suburbs, look up from their X-Boxes and catch a glimpse of the impeccable President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama climbing the steps of the Capitol and suddenly feel... unfashionable.

Leave aside the fact that their TV is hooked up to the XBox, I'm still not really seeing this. Why are young people going to start dressing like politicians? Is it just that the Obamas are black? Because, I'm just going to put this out there, that sounds just the tiniest little bit racist.

What if they are overcome by the same stunned, something's-happening-here feeling that teenagers in the early 60s, their closets full of sock hop regalia, felt when they first laid eyes on The Beatles in 1964, on the nationally televised Ed Sullivan Show.

Yes, but Obama is going to be President and the Beatles were the Beatles. The two are rather different, no? Or this mean we can expect him to grow more facial hair and start wearing a caftan after a few years? Because I guess at least that'd piss off Michelle Malkin.

This week in the nation's capital, Washington Post's Metro columnist Courtland Milloy wrote about the street scene in the mostly African-American, inner-city neighborhood of Trinidad, where D.C. police have set up a Balkans-style traffic checkpoints in and out of the neighborhood in an effort to stem a recent spate of drug related murders. Sitting on the front porch of 67-year-old Willie Dorn, a retired corrections officer, Milloy noted the antics of a group of teenaged boys "shirtless, pants below their behinds," who, as Milloy and Dorn watched, launched a plastic bottle at a passing scooter, nearly causing an accident.

Hold on: what!? Weren't we just talking about clothes. Or was that just a cover so you could trot out a load of right-wing talking points about how all inner-city ("mostly African-American") problems were basically all about some sort of cultural deficiency on the part of black folks?

"Maybe a President Obama could help restore some pride in the black community," Dorn said.

I guess that would be that second option. Did this guy actually suggest the really decisive blow that Obama would strike here would be in the realm of fashion, or did you sort of add that bit yourself? If so, would it be possible for you to come up with some sort of half-arsed anecdotal argument to support your ridiculous assertion? And, if possible, I'd like you to phrase your answer in such a way as to subtly imply that all the black Americans not wearing suits are actually slack, infantile, and otherwise conform to as many Reagan welfare-queen stereotypes as you can cram into one cliche-riddled paragraph.

The relationship of clothing to behavior is real. Clothes may not "make the man," but they shape the mind in ways large and small. Ask any stay-at-home parent, freelance writer or invalid who has spent one too many days in baggy sweats and stained T-shirts and begins to notice (in a semi-alarmed, detached sort of way, of course) a dwindling of discipline and energy. The well-known Rx for this condition is a shower and a change into grown-up clothes, the kind with seams that may pinch the body, but can help focus the head.


Until Barack Obama came along, the most visible pop culture exemplar of 1960s suit-and-tie style was the tightly-wound Rev. Louis Farrakhan. But Farrakhan, for all his former high visibility, was never mainstream. It's no surprise that he failed to inspire a national craze for slim suits and buffed oxfords.

Since when was bonkers-Nation-of-Islam-leader Louis Farrakhan a "pop culture" symbol? Is there some sort of perk for religious leaders, where the Pope, Rowan Williams and L. Ron Hubbard all get a free pass into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame? Or is it just that you've realised that people might (just might) have started to see through your whole "Barack Obama is black and thus all black people will be just like him" argument, and that you'd better throw them off the scent by saying "pop culture" instead of "black culture"? That's it, isn't it? You're a sneaky one, you.

Barack Obama is different. Barack Obama is the suit next time.

That last sentence is, as best I can tell, gibberish.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Are we in a War on Terror, or aren't we?

When we're arguing that what we actually need is forty-two days, our potential terrorists seem to have a level of intelligence and technological sophistication that'd make James Bond blush. Now I think there are good reasons to be very sceptical of that argument, but if you, as a government, want to make it, you surely have at least some minimal responsibility to pretend that you believe it.

So why aren't they all a bit more worried every time a civil servant confuses their sensitive documents with their copy of the Metro and thoughtfully leaves them around for the next passenger to read?

Because, if there's an existential terrorist threat going on, that would be really quite a bad thing, right? I mean, if there really is a "War on Terror" to be fought, in which life and liberty and all things good were under threat from dark and mysterious forces, then this would be the equivalent of someone in the War Office in 1944 accidentally sending their German cousin the planning schedule for D-Day, yeah? Heads would roll, Prime Ministers would look anxious and contrite, and ritual suicide would be pretty much mandatory for the boss of any moron who came out with as pathetic a statement as this:

"We are extremely concerned about what has happened and will be taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen in the future."

Oh you are, are you? Different steps to the ones you took the last fifteen times? Or are we only having a War on Terror insofar as it's a good opportunity to grand-stand to voters about how tough you are on Johnny Foreginer, and hand out fat cheques for useless IT projects?

The most-excellent Spyblog makes the case.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Conservative Apocalypse?

Let's hope that The New Yorker is right about the end of the current Conservative Era. Come, Armageddon come.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

As the Military Saying Goes: "Never Volunteer for Anything!"

Not much that anyone can really add to this opener:

The government is inviting communities around the UK to volunteer to host radioactive waste from the country's half-century of nuclear power.


The UK's most sane and responsible political party, the Green Party, comments thus:


Caroline Lucas MEP has attacked Government plans, due for publication today, to create a system of subsidies for new nuclear stations and bribes to induce communities to accept radioactive waste.

The plan will see the government accept the indefinite responsibility for nuclear waste in exchange for a one-off fixed fee from the nuclear operator - a blank-cheque subsidy designed to encourage private investment in an otherwise economically unviable technology. Ministers will also offer bribe packages of extra health services and infrastructure to cajole communities into accepting nuclear waste dumps.

Dr Lucas, whose South-East constituency is home to two nuclear power plants at Dungeness, said: "Brown's bung-and-bribe strategy shows that he knows just how
unworkable his nuclear plans really are. But instead of supporting sustainable, job-creating renewables, he's handing out huge sums to whoever it takes to get his pet project through.

"His plan to hold health and infrastructure improvements to ransom in exchange for communities' silence over waste dumps is especially cynical. If a town needs a new school, or community centre, or cancer screening facilities, it should get them. End of story.

"As always, it will be the poorest communities who are given the least choice. Desperately in need of investment, they'll be forced into accepting radioactive waste on their doorstep just to avoid further Labour neglect.

"Brown's proposed nuclear waste subsidy is another example of his talent for funneling taxpayers' money into corporate pockets. His own experts predict that it could take up to 150 years even to find a storage solution, and the radioactive waste must then be guarded for hundreds of years. And our government has offered to handle all of this for an easy one-off payment.

"Building new nuclear power stations in this country has never been illegal, or even discouraged. But no company has ever tried, because the only way they can be made financially viable is with a huge government bung - that's what this plan is for."

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

War! (Huh! Good God, Y'all!) What is it good for?

Just ask Haliburton et al.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Empire? Us?

The Independent's been dong some good work on the Bush administration' plan to leave the next president with a permanent occupation. For those who missed it, the gist of the idea was that the US wanted to keep fifty permanent military bases, all staffed with soldiers and contractors who remained immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. In case the Iraqi's got any foolish ideas about preserving their sovereignty, there was the added threat of confiscating their foreign reserves (a legacy effect of the sanctions against Sadam is that these are all held in the US), which are meant to be outstanding from court judgments against them.

Yahoo! news suggests this may not come off as smoothly as planned, which I think we can all agree is a very good thing. Unless they move to plan B and just start bombing Iran in order to justify a ramped-up military presence and four more years of madness.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Memo to Americans

Buy bicycles.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Greatest Threat to Our Constitutional Democracy?

Dan Rather seems to get it.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Water-cooled microchips. Continuing their long line of crazy combination products, the Amstrad PC/kettle is now all but an inevitability.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Is This For Real? Pinch yourselves!

Let's get one thing clear: Barack Obama is neither a perfect man nor a perfect US Presidential candidate. Nevertheless, he damn sure seems like the most impressive major party nominee that your correspondent has seen in his 40 years and counting on this mortal coil. Here's one of the many reasons why.

One gets the impression that, if Obama somehow makes it through the election and into the Oval Office without some crazed Rush Limbaugh fan, Fox News-inspired redneck, Clintonoid fundamentalist or professional hit squad from the military-industrial-security-Big-Oil complex pulling a Sirhan Sirhan, we may actually have a President who could save the country from its worst collective impulses and genuinely restore honour and dignity to the White House after what has arguably been its lowest ebb since the Civil War.

Of course, the five months between now and the General Election is a long time. Still, we can but hope.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Back-asswards politics

In addition to the other silver-linings I've pointed out about rising oil prices, there's the fun to be had watching US pundits play the political equivalent of musical chairs - getting up, running round and sitting in a new position when the music stops. This is not exactly new (I'm not old enough to remember a time when fiscal conservatism was a conservative idea, but apparently, some time before Reagan...), but t is funny. For example, check out Robert J. Samuelson railing against the, one would think quite economically conservative, idea of trying to factor the cost of carbon emissions into energy production:

If we suppress emissions, we also suppress today's energy sources, and because the economy needs energy, we suppress the economy. The models magically assume smooth transitions. If coal is reduced, then conservation or non-fossil-fuel sources will take its place. But in the real world, if coal-fired power plants are canceled (as many were last year), wind or nuclear won't automatically substitute. If the supply of electricity doesn't keep pace with demand, brownouts or blackouts will result. The models don't predict real-world consequences. Of course, they didn't forecast $135-a-barrel oil.

So you're saying that there may be some problems with highly abstract models of the economy that just assume that demand will always generate supply and vice-versa? What happened to Say's Law, Arthur Laffer, and the general idea that economies are robust, complex things that, if left unfettered, will incorporate all available information and arrive at the best possible solution in the best of all possible worlds, Rob?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political fence, Mark Morford gets religion on just that concept as he ponders the consequences of all this new information being incorporated into the pricing system:

Alternative energy sources? All the rage. From hemp to algae to ass fat to pig manure to dead cats, the question will soon be, what won't we consider as a new source to power up the Can-Am Spyder to get us to the dance on time? Ingenuity will flourish. Ingenuity will confound. Ingenuity will annoy the hell out of millions of die-hard car lovers who just want to drive the Audi to Whole Foods without having to sell a kidney. Oh well.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Oohh, I think I know the answer to this one!

John McCain explains why he thinks Obama's wrong about negotiation:

Senator Obama likes to refer to President Kennedy going to Vienna. Most historians see that as a serious mistake, which encouraged Khrushchev to build the Berlin Wall and to send missiles to Cuba. Another example is Richard Nixon going to China. I’ve forgotten how many visits Henry Kissinger made to China, and how every single word was dictated beforehand. More importantly, he went to China because China was then a counterweight to a greater threat, the Soviet Union. What is a greater threat in the Middle East than Iran today?

Uh, well, according to what you've been telling us for the past seven years, it's al Qaeda, no? Historically, these two have not been the best of pals, and if what you're mainly worried about is, in fact, al Qaeda, then does it seem too insane to suggest that you may actually find common cause with Iran on the matter? Something to talk about, maybe?

Of course, we should remember McCain's repeated attempts to muddy the distinction between the two here. If what you really want to do is bomb Iran, then it helps if you can tie them to the Republican party's favourite bogeyman. But that's no reason to listen to the man.

The right sort of populism...

Couple more thoughts on populism, sparked by some of today's news. In the first place, Nick Robinson seems to hint at what we all know, that Brown's bid for 42 days is populism of the worst sort:

The prime minister's hope is that the argument which will dominate politics for the next 10 days will show that he is "taking the right long term decisions in difficult times" and is "on the side" of voters many of whom would instinctively back locking up terrorist suspects for 42 weeks without charge.

If he loses, however, people will be reminded that this is a battle he chose to fight despite having been warned as long ago as last November that:

• there was no consensus for change (he met Liberty's Shami Chakrabati twice in one day in order to find a deal)
• that he faced parliamentary defeat
• that the director of public prosecutions, the former attorney general and former justice secretary did not support the need for change
• that MI5 would not back his arguments either privately or publicly - the spooks have let it be known that they are "neutral" on the issue
• and that many of his own ministers - not least the man he brought into government to deal with terrorism, Lord West - had had real doubts about whether this was the right priority.

A suggestion for a much more useful sort of populism comes from Union leader Derek Simpson:

“How popular do you think it would be, given that oil companies are raking in billions, if he imposed a windfall tax on them and distributed it through something like a council tax cut?” said Derek Simpson, co-head of the Unite union, Labour’s largest contributor with 1.9m members. Mr Simpson said this was the type of policy that would chime with the electorate, in contrast to more esoteric measures such as increasing terror suspect detention or giving workers more flexible working. “Neither addresses the concerns of real-life people,” he said.

This seems to me to be right on the money, although I'd personally like to see at least some of that money put towards sustainable energy. One of the silver linings to skyrocketing oil price cloud is that less harmful sorts of energy production are now starting to make a lot more economic sense. Combine that with the justifiable rage that people are feeling against oil companies, and you have what looks, at least to my untrained eyes, like a chance for a really substantial push towards both meeting some of our climate change obligations,and becoming a more long-term competitive economy. A smart politician would be making the (populist) case for that. Instead we just the same nonsense about terrorism.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Just got sent a link to the most excellent Your Right to Know blog. Apart from excellent coverage on MP's allowances, this covers all sorts of freedom of information and public knowledge related goodies. Did you know, for example, that the home office has plans for a database that would make the NSA's recent activities in the US look like a bit of neighbourly curtain-twitching. Or that spending on police PR in Northumria had gone up more than 50% in two years? Check it out.

Michelle Malkin in shrill, anti-Islamic fit of hysteria for reasons that remain incomprehensible to the rest of the world

In other news, dog bites man. For those unfamiliar with Miss Malkin, she's sort of a poor man's Anne Coulter. Or maybe a rich man's. Probably that, actually. Anyway, the point is that she's one of those folks who makes her living blogging about how terrifying all those religious folk in the Middle East are with their jihadding (I am willing to bet she's used that as a verb) and how all the right-thinking religious folk in the US should go on crusade against them, all the while saving some ammo back to deal with liberals, black people, terror, evolution and the environment. Or something.

So, she's upset because someone in a Dunkin' Donuts ad had a black and white scarf on. Since folks in the Middle East are also sometimes known to wear black and white scarves, she's taken to wondering whether this is a coincidence, or an early indication that the marketing folk at America's largest purveyor of angina-inducing-baked-goods are in fact secret race traitors. Although she's prepared to give Dunkin' Donuts the benefit of the doubt. Because, hey, at least they're tough on immigrants.

Just to show you I'm not making this up, I'm going to link to her post again. And have a look around the site, folks. Who needs Steven Colbert when you can go right to the source?

The thing that makes this slightly more unusual than your average right-wing knickers-in-a-twister story is that Dunkin' Donuts actually pulled the add on the basis of this:

Dunkin' Donuts has pulled an online advertisement featuring Rachael Ray after complaints that a fringed black-and-white scarf that the celebrity chef wore in the ad offers symbolic support for Muslim extremism and terrorism.

The coffee and baked goods chain said the ad that began appearing online May 7 was pulled over the past weekend because "the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee."

Not the first example of extreme American parochialism damaging US business, and certainly not the last, but surely one of the weirdest.

Also, as Roy Edroso points out, we should spare a thought for Michelle in all this. When celebrity fashion choices may be coded signals of a boardroom-executive conspiracy against America, the world's a pretty scary place:

What a small, strange world she lives in -- one in which even simple breakfast choices are fraught with peril. What are her lunch and dinner choices like? When she goes to a restaurant, does she peer into the waiters' station and wonder which servers are gays who wish to be married, peer into the kitchen and wonder which dishwashers are illegal aliens? When she makes her own meals, does she claw through the fridge and pantry like Harry Caul at the end of The Conversation, frantically searching the labels for signs of politically incorrect associations?

Support the Open Rights Group Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.