Friday, February 29, 2008
It is not only what these unregulated armed forces get up to in other parts of the world – what happens when some of the the ‘veterans’ of these operations come back to the UK and live with their experiences in our political and social life? Some will have combat stresses, for example, and wont be covered even by the skimpy 'military covenant' support we give to our official soldiery. And some may have a taste for unorthodox political activities.
Definitely some thinking to do.
I think the solution is regulation rather than elimination.
Not exactly gimmicks but clear pegs onto which you can hang the political frames you need. That’s a skill we may need to develop especially in a party dependent on guerrilla tactics from time to time. Not to mention FOCUS writing....
By the way- question to younger people – does the literary reference to ‘1984’ still have the portentous gloom it had for my late-1940s born generation?
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I say almost, because for some reason the author, while discussing the events of Autumn 2007 (and indeed the previous few years) with considerable astuteness, utterly fails to mention either the warnings of Vince Cable or the other relevant interventions by economically superbly well qualified Liberal Democrats.
He can hardly have failed to notice these as he has been the BBC Business editor since February 2006 and previously was City Editor of the Sunday Telegraph.
Despite this huge gap in the narrative, Robert Peston’s book ‘Who Runs Britain?’ is well worth reading. It is on a lot more than NR…
Maybe we should go onto Peston’s blog and ask him for his assessment of the Cable contribution to understanding what is what in this matter, and perhaps why he failed to enlighten his readers as to who in the political world was trying to man the gates against the barbarians.
He does mention the piquant fact that the man selected to be executive chairman of the Nationalised Rock is enjoying non-domeciled tax status. However Ron Sanders intends to pay UK tax on his earnings from managing NR.
Way back in the great Videotape Format war that is, where VHS beat Betamax to become the de facto tape standard . VHS it seems was taken up by porn producers and this helped establish greater market share by boosting home sales of VHS video recorders…
But come the HD DVD wars, the alleged Porn industry preference for Toshiba’s technical Digital Video Disc standard has failed to outweigh the virtues and market tie-ins for the Blu-ray standard promoted by Sony. Toshiba today withdrew its product from the market – and this boosted its shares as investors registered relief that the company would not be chasing a difficult investment battle.
So we now have de facto one high-definition digital video disc standard for the industry around the world… the market has spoken.
Friday, February 15, 2008
See for example this story about building blocks from China aimed at helping Chinese children learn English. They each have a Chinese character, a picture, and the English translation – allegedly. One of the entertaining examples is of an egg, which in English is given as ‘Dick’.
"ji1 dan4" 鸡蛋 = "chicken egg" was mistranslated using the entry for "ji1 ba" 鸡巴, translated "penis [colloquial]" in my dictionary but presumably translated "dick" in some other ones.
As for the Archpuzzle of Canterbury there is a long and interesting analysis of his recent Sharia speech which is well worth reading especially by those commentators baying for Dr William’s blood. It lays out rather more clearly what he actually said - and that was not to call for the establishment of one law for Moslems and another for everybody else. I would invite all fair-minded LibDems to have a look at this analysis.
the Archbishop is saying that if religious and secular legal authorities interacted and considered their own roles and operations critically they could learn something from each other, which might help us avoid pointless clashes between legal authorities that behave like unyielding bitter rivals.
An example might be the way that diamond traders traditionally submit disputes to the Jewish Beth Din courts, even when neither party is Jewish, because of the historic expertise of the Beth Din in this field. This is a private agreement amongst individuals to submit to non-state arbitration.
The ‘What a Burka’ ravings of The Sun should be treated with the contempt they deserve.
Serious things to consider, even if one does not, in the end, like what the Archbishop actually says. So does the writer (Geoffrey Pullman) come down strongly for the Archbishop overall? No, he thinks that he should probably resign because of his political ineptitude in the way he handled the whole matter.
Dr Williams is a gentle, learned, brilliant, scholarly man, and a bit of a public relations doofus. The calls for his resignation are not unjustified. He should be the holder of an endowed professorship in some suitable subject at some research-led university. He should not be a prominent church administrator, and certainly not the Archbishop of Canterbury. Someone duller, less original, less intelligent, and more political should be found for that job.
In the language that might be used by one of the learners of English from the blocks, politically a bit of a鸡蛋 in fact. Ah well...
Thursday, February 14, 2008
War on Terror, War on Drugs, and now according to Prince Chattering, we need to conduct the actions against global warming on a mental war footing.
I suppose he may be recalling US President Jimmy Carter’s attempt to mobilise public support for his April 1977 energy policy as ‘the moral equivalent of War’
Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern. This difficult effort will be the "moral equivalent of war" -- except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not destroy.
Do people use this war rhetoric because it gives their cause the serious glamour of violence? That it shows how really really serious things are…?
Well, for me violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. Violence-invoking language and imagery and metaphors help close down thinking, makes people frightened, shut down serious thought about options in a difficult situation. Global warming is a complex of horrendous problems with packages of proposed solutions that have real downsides. We do not need a frightened herd of people acting as in a war. We need the intelligent and questioning participation of as many people as possible, people who realise that things are much too serious to fart about with ‘war words’.
OK Milton did flirt with a war image, but in the Areopagitica he said
Behold now this vast city: a city of refuge, the mansion house of liberty, encompassed and surrounded with his protection; the shop of war hath not there more anvils and hammers waking, to fashion out the plates and instruments of armed justice in defence of beleaguered truth, than there be pens and heads there, sitting by their studious lamps, musing, searching, revolving new notions and ideas wherewith to present, as with their homage and their fealty, the approaching Reformation: others as fast reading, trying all things, assenting to the force of reason and convincement.
Musing, searching, revolving new notions... assenting to the force of reason and convincement... tackling the causes of climatic change calls for these arts of peace.
By the way, if you want to recommend a book that goes into the pros and cons of personal energy efficiency without sinking under the weight of technical expositions or fearful exhortation, try Colin Smith's book 'This Cold House: The Simple Science of Energy Efficiency'. A little gem. Every PPC should read it.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Let’s for example take the Quakers. Individual Quakers have been known to break the law as a matter of religious conscience in the past, and others may do so in the future.
The Religious Society of Friends offers its members the ‘Advices and Queries’ for their comfort and discomfort. This is what A&Q 34 and 35 say:
34 Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national, and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.
35 Respect the laws of the state but let your first loyalty be to God's purposes. If you feel impelled by strong conviction to break the law, search your conscience deeply. Ask your meeting for the prayerful support which will give you strength as a right way becomes clear.
Are Quakers too dangerously religious to be accepted as LibDem representatives?
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Some of our party stuff does get subtitled, and thanks to all who make the effort to get this done. But with the growth of Web2.0 facilities there are fewer excuses for leaving of titles.
Check out this BBC access page which describes the self-help dotSub tool (where you can take an online video and add captions yourself, making it available publicly) and the Project Readon service (where you submit requests for a video to be subtitled and the service does it for you and puts it up on a youTube like server– apparently at the moment a 24 hour turnaround).
Here’s a example of a dotSub treated video ‘Dance Monkey Dance’ - and if Nick Clegg is reading this he can try out the Dutch subtitles available as one of the choices offered on a menu. Which means, if you think about it, that we could have LibDem material going out with subtitles in Punjabi, or Urdu, or Lithuanian, or Welsh, or indeed any other language that we find appropriate and for which we can get texts from competent translators …
How about making all our video submissions – including the less official ones posted on our blogs – subtitle enabled?
It was the fire regulations that did it originally. A wonderful example of ‘government by creep’ and a warning on the need for watchfulness in the defence of liberties.
And also a reminder that ‘making things local’ can have odd consequences sometimes.
When the cinema came to Britain in the early 1900’s nobody quite knew how to react to it officially. At the time stage plays had to be pre-approved by a government official, the Lord Chamberlain, but the spread of the new media outran the legislation. Of course there were quick public reactions to Unsuitable or Outrageous content in this or that film, but nobody had the power to stop or censure them.
However films needed a publicly accessible hall for a performance. These halls of course had safety requirements, including fire regulations. Now, early film stock was on celluloid, which is rather flammable (it is actually chemically related to guncotton). On the early projectors, with their big open reels and hot lamps, fire was a distinct and realistic worry. So, quite rightly, regulations came in requiring safe practices for handling film projectors. The administration of this regulation was in the hands of local authorities.
It soon occurred to the more creative spirits amongst concerned local politicos that if a hall was refused a fire certificate, the film could not be shown. So the councils began issuing short term certificates, refusing them for the showing of films the contents of which they disapproved. De Facto censorship. Film distributors faced mounting chaos and expense, having to make different cuts in different areas in order to get their films shown.
The industry responded by setting up the British Board of Film Censorship (as the BBFC was first called), an industry-maintained body which reached agreements with local Authorities. Basically the authorities agreed normally to accept films for showing in their areas without demanding pre-viewing or local cuts; but with the right to opt out for a particular film. This meant that most films could be shown nationally without expensive trimmings. Very quickly this deal established a kind of common law right for local authorities to censor films, and when Local Government was comprehensively reformed in 1974 the power to censor films was one of the rights solemnly listed and apropportioned amongst the various tiers of the new authorities.
Government at the Parliamentary level very sensibly kept its head down and as far as possible avoided direct involvement in individual controversies.
Why mention all this now? Well, the BBFC ‘Accountability to Parliament and Appeals’ Bill comes before Parliament on 29th February, and amongst other things seeks to establish that the Government make the appointments of members of the British Board of Film Classification (as it is now called). It also establishes that parliament be able to force a re-appraisal of a film after it has been certifeid by the BBFC. I understand that LibDem Parliamentarians are -thankfully- minded to oppose this.
There is however one interesting sidebar to this history, which we may want to think about as we press for more and more radical devolution of real power out of Whitehall.
So strong was the culture of local power in the mid-years of the last century that councils thought nothing of defying the national government in time of war where it felt they were acting within their own powers. In about 1943 (I believe) the Soviet Union sent over to Britain a graphic documentary shot in the front line in battle, showing what really can happen to real people at the sharp end of war. A number of local councils banned it for showing to people under 18 as likely to cause public distress because of the graphic nature of the images. This ban included British soldiers under 18 who could be sent into battle, but weren’t allowed to see what they might have to face. There were cases of Colonels marching their troops up to cinemas specifically to give their young troops a sober look at what they would face, and being turned away at the doors.
The Soviet Union protested to the UK Government about the restrictions on viewing the film but the Government felt unable to over-rule the local councils on this.
The Soviet Union somehow failed to grasp the notion of idea of a Central Government powerless to over-rule a local authority, and though it was all part of a plot to delay the establishment of the Second Front against Nazi Germany. They protested accordingly. The international crisis was real and serious but this didn’t move the relevant Mayors, Alderman or whatever.
Wonder what would happen today?
Thursday, February 07, 2008
As the petition says in various languages (Full English version for signing here… get access to various language versions via sidebar here):
Nous, citoyens européens de toutes origines et de toutes tendances souhaitons exprimer notre totale opposition à la nomination de Tony Blair à la présidence du Conseil de l'Union Européenne.
.....Seit einiger Zeit offenbaren immer hartnäckigere Meldungen den Wunsch mancher, dass Tony Blair zum ersten Präsidenten des Europäischen Rates ernannt wird. Diese Ernennung, sollte sie stattfinden, stünde in krassem Widerspruch zu den Werten des europäischen Projekts....
Pažeisdamas tarptautinius įstatymus, Tony Blair'as įtraukė savo šalį į Irako karą, kuriam prieštaravo Europos piliečių didžioji dauguma. Šis karas pareikalavo šimtus tūkstančius aukų ir privertė persikelti milijonus pabėgėlių.
Que é um factor maior na actual desestabilização profunda do Médio Oriente e que enfraqueceu a segurança mundial. De modo a conduzir o seu país à guerra, Blair fez uso sistemático de provas forjadas e de manipulação da informação. O seu papel na guerra do Iraque pesaria fortemente sobre a imagem da União no mundo, caso fosse eleito presidente.
The steps taken by Tony Blair's government, and his complicity with the Bush administration in the illegal programme of "extraordinary renditions", have led to an unprecedented decline in civil liberties. This is in contradiction with the terms of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is an integral part of the treaty.
Επιπλέον, μοιάζει αδιανόητο πως πρώτος Πρόεδρος του Συμβουλίου της ΕΕ θα είναι ο πρώην επικεφαλής μιας κυβέρνησης που έχει κρατήσει την χώρα της έξω από δύο βασικά στοιχεία της οικοδόμησης της Ευρώπης: τον χώρο των ελεύθερων μετακινήσεων Σένγκεν και την ζώνη του Ευρώ.
Cuando una de las prioridades de las instituciones europeas es reconectar con sus cuidadanos, creemos que es esencial que el Presidente del Consejo Europeo sea una persona con la que una mayoría de los ciudadanos se puedan identificar, más que alguien rechazado por una mayoría. Por tanto, declaramos nuestra total oposición a esta nominación.
Do you agree???
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
It seems that the UK and USA are trying to find a ‘worthy successor’ for President Karzai if Afghanistan, who’s term of office ends in 2009. This involves boosting the profiles of various ‘Northern Alliance’ regional leaders (sometimes known as local warlords) and carrying out clandestine negotiations with the Taliban. .
As the Asia Times commented (6 Feb 2008)
Karzai seems to have decided that he won't allow himself to be taken for granted any longer. A limit is certainly reached when a powerful donor country begins its own clandestine "war on terror" on Afghan soil directed against Afghan people without even informing him or anyone in his government - and Afghan intelligence operatives learn about it accidentally from the memory stick of a laptop. The sensational leak by Afghan intelligence about Britain's covert war in Afghanistan must be seen in perspective….
…..If the calculation of Western intelligence is to threaten Karzai by reviving the political profile of his detractors, that doesn't seem to work. Karzai is certainly not impressed. He is retaliating. Over last weekend, the intelligence apparatus in Kabul has almost dealt a fatal blow to Britain's reputation in the "war on terror". Such a
thing couldn't have happened without political clearance at the highest level in
Kabul. …(Karzai) then told the BBC that Paddy Ashdown couldn't become the UN's
super envoy to Afghanistan. Thereafter, Karzai went on to comment in his
interview with Die Welt, "I'm not sure sending more [NATO] forces is the
answer." In yet another interview with CNN, Karzai pointed the finger at the
"misguided policy objectives" of certain countries and organizations, which he
refused to name, as contributing to the violence in Afghanistan. Talking to The
Washington Post, Karzai said, "It [war] will make a difference when the
Americans are clear and straightforward about this fight," adding that the US
should "mean what they say ... [and] do what they say".
The author of this Asia Times piece is a retired (30-year service) former Indian diplomat. M K Bhadrakumar
Seems to me there are some serious questions to be asked about UK involvement n Afghanistan, and some concrete reasons for other NATO States to baulk at sending more of their troops into active fighting zones – at least until we get some coherent explanations of what is what. If Paddy has picked up some background knowledge I trust he is in a position to brief our Parliamentary teams. We may have to review our support for the Afghan War.
In the Financial Times (Feb 5th 2008) Martin Wolf explains why it is so hard to keep the financial sector caged and why it is important nevertheless to make the effort.
….. the banking sector is the recipient of massive explicit and implicit public subsidies: it is largely guaranteed against liquidity risk; many of its liabilities seem to be contingent claims on the state; and central banks create an upward- sloping yield curve whenever banks are decapitalised, thereby offering a direct transfer to any institution able to borrow at the low rate and lend at the higher one.
The bigger point still, however, concerns macro-prudential regulation. As William White of the Bank for International Settlement has noted, banks almost always get
into trouble together. The most recent cycle of mad lending, followed by panic and revulsion, is a paradigmatic example…….In the end, we are left with a dilemma. On the one hand, we have a banking sector that has a demonstrated capacity to generate huge crises because of the incentives to take on under-appreciated risks. On the other hand, we lack the will and even the capacity to regulate it.
Yet we have no obvious alternative but to try to do so. A financial sector that generates vast rewards for insiders and repeated crises for hundreds of millions of innocent bystanders is, I would argue, politically unacceptable in the long run. Those who want market-led globalisation to prosper will recognise that this is its Achilles heel. Effective action must be taken now, before a still bigger global crisis arrives.
Discussion on Wolf’s article elsewhere (on Eurotrib) is of some interest, highlighting the implications of this approach as seen from a continental ‘anti Liberal’ worldview that sees the current uproars as ‘the Anglo Disease’.
Sunday, February 03, 2008
One thing about the Lottery is that it is the partial nationalisation of charity. It channels ‘giving’ through a kind of voluntary taxation and hands out benefits to ‘good causes’ not according to the choices and preferences of the taxed but according to the bureaucratic decisions of a gallimaufry of the Great and the Good. It also makes rather too visible a pot of money that tempts a wider government to direct it for possible beneficial ends.
Now the funding of the 2012 Olympics depends rather heavily on the use of Lotteries money which puts heavy strains on the funds available for other causes.
The voluntary tax, a regular purchase of a lottery ticket in the expectation of a win, requires the care and maintenance of a high degree of statistical ignorance amongst the public on the actual odds of getting anything back. The analysis shows in fact that a there is a steady pool of punters who budget for lottery tickets and this puts an effective cap on lottery income. An independent study suggests that there is little likelihood of Camelot boosting sales to make good this shortfall.
Maybe people are starting to wise up about this as the general economic situation tightens?
Perhaps we should look again at the consequences of Charities Nationalisation.
Professor Ian Walker (an expert on lotteries design –see his Dummies Guide ) predicted this funding mess but incidentally disagrees with the suggestion that unpopularity of the causes supported impacts on the revenue raised.
On a parochial note it is perhaps a relief that our Party leadership is no longer related by marriage to the management of Camelot.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Parts are very relevant to the current uproars:
When the going was good, investment bankers, hedge fund managers and partners in private-equity firms all did very nicely from the bonuses and the capital gains and the fees generated by the frenetic manufacturing of deal after deal after deal. Many of them are now paying a price for failing to understand the risks they were taking on. Don't weep for them. They have already extracted fortunes. It is most of us who are paying for their foolhardiness, as the pricking of a financial bubble they created has a negative impact on all our prosperity.
And he goes on to spell out some of the political consequences, all too relevant in the current heated atmosphere over ‘sleaze’.
Why should any of us care? For one thing, it's not healthy for democracy. The new super-rich have the means through the financing of political parties, the funding of think-tanks and the ownership of the media to shape Government policies or to deter reform of a status quo that suits them… since 2001, the private equity doyens Sir Ronnie Cohen and Nigel Doughty have contributed £1.8m and £1m respectively to Labour, the former Goldman Sachs partner John Aisbitt has given £750,000 and the hedge-fund executive William Bollinger has handed over £510,000…. the biggest cost from the swelling of the super-rich class is an erosion of the fabric that holds together communities and the nation. The plutocrats who live here behave as though the UK is permanently on probation.
Individuals can distort the system in their favour for colossal sums, way beyond the puny efforts of Conservative MPs passing taxpayers crumbs to their families. Of Sir Phillip Green and his wife, Robert Peston notes:
(Green’s) greatest coup was to receive a divided in 2005 of £1.2bn from Arcadia, the retailing business he had bought in the autumn of 2002 with just a few million pounds of his own cash. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that his wife received the dividend. He is the grafter, probably the greatest retailer of his generation, and she's the owner. Why are the superlative assets in her name? Well, as luck would have it, she became a resident of Monaco before he set new records for extracting cash from old-established businesses. So by vesting ownership in her hands, any dividend paid would avoid payment of tax to the British Exchequer.
On this one dividend - probably the biggest ever paid to an individual in the history of British business - there was therefore a colossal tax saving, estimated at £300 million. It would have been enough to build 10 state secondary schools…You might think that depriving the public purse of such a sum might put him in baddish odour with the Government. But there has not been so much as a hint of unpleasantness. In fact, the lovable rogue of the British billionaire class was even knighted - for his services to retailing - just a few months after dancing around the tax man. Green is the matchless hero, the nonpareil of the new monied class. Understand him and how he made his pile and you understand 21st century jackpot capitalism.
Once more it is interesting that it is the Telegraph that is publicising this, which suggests that at least some of its business-orientated readers will not entirely approve. Even though the outcome of fighting off Green’s predatory bid seems to have been beneficial for M+S…
Read the telegraph extracts :
1 Pointing fingers at the plutocrats (here)
2 Hedge Funds: the new global super powers page 1, page 2,
3 Sir Philip Green (The bidder for M+S)
Robert Peston ‘Who Runs Britain? The super-rich and how they are changing our lives’. Hodder and Stoughton Feb 2008.
It is the political classes who grant favours to the rich in return for support who run this place. The class which has bred so many MPs on all sides of the house.
The same voices that supported tough macroeconomic policies to deal with the excesses of spending and borrowing in east Asia, Russia and Latin America are today pushing for a significant relaxation in the US to deal with the so-called subprime crisis. Interest rates should be slashed quickly and $150bn put into taxpayers’ pockets by April at the latest, they say. The Fed cut by another half-point on Wednesday.
A side question not in the FT: does this actually put US interest rates below US inflation and is this therefore the equivalent to a Mediaeval monarch debasing his currency?
The FT concludes that The USA should follow its own rules (where have we heard that idea before?) :
The US should face its need for adjustment with courage and reason, not fear. It should stop behaving as the whiner of first resort, ready to waste all its dry powder on a short-sighted attempt to prevent a 2008 recession. Many poorer countries with weaker markets and institutions have survived and benefited from an adjustment that involves a year of negative growth. Faster bank recapitalisation, fiscal investment stimulus and international co-ordination should be first on the policy agenda.
Does that also apply to us in this sceptered Isle? If so what should we be doing different?
As for the double standards - its obvious why - its politics. The politicians want results now, the economists they pay for give them something which may create temporary relief.