Sunday 23 March 2008

The Inaugural GIR Award goes to...

I've just come across a story of stupidity so monumentally self-defeating that I have no option but to set up my own award scheme to give it the recognition it deserves. Let the word go forth from this time and place: the prestigious GIR will be awarded to those people or institutions whose eagerness to achieve their goals is exceeded only by the depth of their ham-fisted incompetence. It will be offered not mockingly*, but in the genuine hope that the recipients can learn from their errors and, well, you can work it out.

With that in mind, the first GIR goes to the one Mike Mathis, producer of the Creationist "documentary" Expelled:

It's a screed attempting to show that Darwinism is nothing more than a cult, whose proponents exclude religious-minded scientists from the academic debate. But that's not the stupid bit.

In support of this hypothesis, it cites the case of Galileo. But that's not the stupid bit.

It's ostensibly a call for greater inclusion of all points of view in the scientific debate. One of the scientists (P Z Myers) interviewed in the film attempted to go and see the finished work only to be, yes, expelled from the cinema on the instructions of the producer. But that's not the stupid bit.

Actually, because it's his story, go and read P Z Myers account of his expulsion on Pharyngula. He'll tell you the stupid bit. Then, if you think that farrago doesn't deserve an award, come back here and complain to the committee. But I bet you won't.

Having read that (and for your own sake, only after having read that) you'll probably be interested in going and reading this. Enjoy.

*This is a lie.

Monday 17 March 2008

Strong independent women getting them out for the lads

Via Mr Eugenides, news that may break the tentative alliance with Iran: popular breast-themed restaurant chain Hooters is coming to Scotland.

Some have suggested, much to Mr E's wrath, that this is not, all in all, something to be encouraged. That somehow, hiring women ostensibly to bring customers food but actually to let men ogle their boobs is a bit sexist and may even, just possibly, encourage the idea that women are there to be ogled. Predictably, Hooters will have none of this: it isn't doing this for men, but to empower women:
"To Hooters, the women's rights movement is important because it guarantees women have the right to choose their own careers, be it a supreme court justice or Hooters girl."
Why not both? But speaking as a guy, this "empowering independent women" thing is amazing. Somehow, women are queuing up to jiggle their boobs as they bring us steak, learn strip-tease to please us and even get them out in national magazines. (By no means is this last link safe for work. Also, you should be working.) Not because we make them. No, because they think it's doing them some good. Check out this justification for learning "burlesque"
The course is extremely empowering making you feel sexy and capable of anything, and learning how to lap dance will certainly make your partner look at you with new eyes…!
Seriously, who comes out on top here? The woman who pays £100 for four weeks of lap dance classes, or the guy(s) she'll use that hard-earned knowledge on? A thought experiment: if women hadn't been "empowered" to take control of their sexuality but instead had been reduced by men to the status of sexual playthings, what would they be doing differently? I don't know how we did it, but somehow they're dancing for us. And are we learning to dance for them? Are we hell as like. I suppose we're just not empowered enough.

It all follows from one simple principle

Owing to a somewhat tortuous chain of links, Devil's Kitchen replies to this critique of the LPUK on Pootergeek here. For those of you not keeping up, the original point was that there's a disconnect between the fine principle of minarchism espoused by the LPUK and their manifesto promise that the State will stop people coming to Britain.

DK's reply is as follows:
For what it is worth, it is a problem of practicality, rather than a problem of votes. It was Hayek, I think, who made the point that an open borders policy (which would be the free-trade policy) is impossible to meet whilst there is an imbalance in other areas.
In other words, if people want to come here to work, then that is entirely fine. But people also come here because of the level of Welfare; even if they lose their job, then they have a safety net well beyond the level of their home country. To put it in scientific terms, there is an osmotic imbalance.
Of course, once the Welfare State is removed (and you know that I regard the WS, as currently set up, to be counterproductive and, in many cases, downright evil) then we can absolutely open our borders and have free trade in people as we would in goods and capital.
There are two points to make here: First, this is still ducking the fundamental issue. If I as, say, an East Anglian farmer, wish to hire Azerbaijanis to pick my kale and potatoes then that is (as I understand Libertarianism) a mutually beneficial exchange between two free people, and as such sacrosanct. What business is it of the government's? That I may, at some later date, terminate their employment and that they might, under those circumstances, choose to claim unemployment benefit seems a poor reason now to force me to pay higher wages to less eager employees, or to deny these putative Azerbaijanis the right to rent me their life. In other words, this still strikes me as a major departure from the LPUK's founding principles. It's almost as if the need to balance competing interests - or competing rights, in Lib-speak - creates unforeseen complexities and can even lead to some restrictions on the liberty of the individual. Tyranny!

The second point stems from DK's admission that this policy is a matter of practicality - that as matters stand, Libertarianism cannot be thrust upon us wholesale. Indeed. It seems that in order to make political headway, they will have to compromise, water down their principles and make accommodations with the vast number of people who disagree with them. Politics as the art of the possible. All of which would be banal, except that this comes from the mouths of Libertarians, who are ceaseless in their claims that all of politics stems with Euclidean simplicity from one fundamental axiom , that issues are only ever black and white, and that today's politicians' charade of mutual compromises is just evidence of the corruption, incomepetence and general unfitness to rule.

Once again, it seems there's a tradeoff between ideological purity, and getting something done.

Saturday 15 March 2008

The Odd Alliance

In a touching "hands across the sea" gesture, the Iranian ambassador to the UK has been cosying up to the SNP (tough gig). Apparently, Tehran and Holyrood share similar views on the proliferation of nuclear weapons - if this is true, the IAEA probably need to take a second glance at Douneray - as well as on peace and friendship, and possibly love as well.

This is of course a little embarrassing, as concerned friends of Alex Salmond have been keen to publicly point out, but the idea that Scotland and Iran are natural allies is of course nonsense. After all, it's not as if Scotland is bedevilled with clerics ranting on about evil gays and the Holocaust.

(Hat tip to Freemania and Oliver Kamm)

Friday 14 March 2008

Keeping it in the family

So, Dave Cameron loves his family. Bless. We might have guessed for ourselves, but thanks to his kind hospitality to a passing TV crew, he's laid the issue to rest. Quite how he withstood the Pavlovian urge to ram a burger down their precious little throats we may never know. But, admirable though this home and hearth stuff is, is it possible he's become a little myopic? As Dave says: "nothing informs my thinking more than family," and he's not wrong. Let's run down some big ideas:
  • £20/week for staying married
  • Free maternity nurse/cook/mother's little helper for all new parents
  • Shared maternity/paternity leave for greater flexibility
What this all says about life chez Cameron is an interesting question, of course (sounds like he's finding it just a little tiring, doesn't it?) but there are bigger fish to fry. Clearly, he's getting his ideas about what families really need by looking at his own problems experiences: is this the best place to find national policies? There's two questions he doesn't seem to have asked himself:

1) Are families really that important?
2) Are my ("comfortably well-off" upper middle-class) problems really the major concerns for most families?

Fans of cognitive biases will of course recognise a blend of the availability heuristic, framing, and anchoring. In other words, he's a small-minded narcissist who looks at major social and political questions through his own narrow and skewed worldview, and doesn't even realise he's doing it.

In his words "I'm asking people a very big thing, which is to elect me as their prime minister. And I think people have a right to know a bit more about you, your life and your family, what makes you tick, and what informs your thinking."

Well, now we know. Thanks Dave.

Thursday 13 March 2008

The reins of power

Rather than announcing a forthcoming charge on plastic bags, wouldn't it have been easier for Alistair Darling just to stand up say: "As of now, this government is the Daily Mail's bitch"?

Sunday 9 March 2008

Taking a liberty

Don't be fooled by the previous post. There's more to the UK Libertarian Party than mere tactical political acumen - although the genius of pursuing the non-voter vote should not be underestimated. They've got principles and policies as well.

The principles are admirably and predictably simple:
"We believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom from government—on all issues at all times."
Gosh, it's rugged and independent and noble and inspiring, isn't it? You don't hear that from your waffling, corrupt and cynical machine politicians, do you? That's because they don't understand this big truth:
"The Libertarian approach offers a consistent and coherent way of looking at the world—one that puts you and your family at the centre of things. We believe that when it comes to making those decisions that really matter—how your children are educated, who will care for your elderly relatives, how much of your life you spend working and how much with your family—there's only one person that can make the best choice for you: and that is you."
So how does this translate into policies? Consistency and coherency are the watchwords here remember. Gosh, I certainly hope they don't have any policies of excessive government interference, or which prevent the individual from taking decisions that really matter!
"The totally free movement of people into the UK is not practical whilst we have a large welfare state and other countries are themselves not broadly Libertarian in nature. In line with the Rule of Law, a transparent, consistent points-based system is one of the key measures that we are proposing."
Whoops! Aside from noting that "whilst...other countries are themselves not broadly Libertarian in nature" is very long-winded way of saying "never", this flies in the face of the precious UKLP philosophy:
  • We believe in freedom from government on all issues at all times (but we'll tell you who you can and can't employ)
  • We believe only you can make the best decisions for the family (unless you decide to move them to the UK - you can't decide that)
So what's the deal here? Surely there aren't concerns over the public good that trump the individuals' right to do whatever they like? One conclusion would be that UKLP are not nobly principled harbingers of a new era of freedom, but merely small-island reactionaries cloaking their "I'm alright Jack" instincts with tatters of cheap sophistry. More interestingly, maybe they're not. Maybe they don't really believe in immigration controls at all. Maybe it's something they put in the manifesto as a compromise. After all, it wouldn't be at all popular to announce that their principles inexorably lead them to totally open borders. Maybe they're just doing what's practical. Thinking about the voters, and adjusting their policies accordingly. I really hope so. Because it's easy to be pure and noble on the outside. Join in and try and get something done however and it's a different, and less flattering, story.

Monday 3 March 2008

Just because there's a gap in the market...

For those of you who hadn't noticed, this is an exciting time in British politics. No, I don't mean the "business as usual" Blaircameronite Westminster farce that the slavish lap-dogs of the media spoon-feed you. Heaven forfend. I'm talking about the arrival of the new brooms which will sweep away the festering rot of party politics and replace it with a new era of party politics. New brooms, I say, for I present to you not one but two new political parties: the UK Libertarian Party and the British People's Alliance.

They stand for rather different things. The BPA is "Pro-Life, Pro-Family, Pro-Worker, Anti-War"; UKLP "believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and freedom from government—on all issues at all times." Let's do a quick compare and contrast (all emphasis is mine):

BPA: believes in the universal and comprehensive Welfare State
UKLP: An end to State funding of lifestyle choices.

BPA: the partnership between a strong Parliament and strong local government
UKLP: Libertarians believe that the role of the State should be to protect our basic rights, and nothing more.

BPA: the whole paid for by progressive taxation
UKLP: Personal Income Tax to be abolished in second financial year of a Libertarian government.

Well, a certain amount of philosophical opposition there. But can these policies find voters? To quote from the BPA:
"..between thirty-four and thirty-eight per cent of respondents to opinion polls now consistently indicate an intention not to vote; this initiative offers the possibility of representation at least for a significant section of those otherwise disenfranchised."
That's right! The reason people don't plan on voting isn't because they just don't care: it's because they secretly agree with a hitherto unknown political platform, but have been too shy to say anything until now. Their very silence on the question of who they want to run the country only proves that they want it to be the BPA. QED, oh Blaircameronite puppets. Q E D.

But soft- what of UKLP? They too have an electoral strategy, and a target vote to boot:
"At the last UK General Election, 4 in 10 registered electors—over 17 million people—chose not to vote."
Let battle be joined!

Sunday 2 March 2008

Look! Over there, do you see?

If you're reading this then I know you have, literally, nothing better do than visit Blog From The Back Room and read this. Once you've discovered just how and why media coverage of politics is quite so self-defeatingly narrow-minded, you can go to Freemania and read this. That'll keep you up to date on the problems of treating politics like a consumer good. (And also, incidentally, provides another perspective on the whole "sophistry of liberty"/"all government is theft" debacle from late last year). Finally, if you're anything like me, you'll find a lot of comfort in this piece on ambition at Stumbling and Mumbling.

All of which is more interesting than anything I've got to say right now.