Shutdown, blah blah.

The whole web is full of dumbass articles with screenshots of federal agency websites like this:

Due to the US government shutdown, this website has died.

I’m not an expert, but I know a thing or two about websites. For example, I know these bastards don’t rent server space by the day.

I mean, come on! One day without a budget and they can’t leave their fucking websites up? Is this some kind of joke, or are federal government agencies so shite they can’t keep a website running for ONE FUCKING DAY without a budget being passed?

And these are the people who run the free world. Jesus wept.

So, the Daily Mail has an article about the 50 things the average person wants to achieve during their lifetime, along with the caveat that the average person only actually does five of the 50.

There aren’t even 50 things on the list, but here goes:

1. Become a millionaire—Would like to do.

2. Travel the world—Would like to do only once no. 1 has been achieved.

3. See the Northern Lights—Would like to do.

4. Trek the Great Wall of China—No thanks.

5. Be mortgage free—I’m mortgage-free now, but about that student debt…

6. Go to the Inca Trail—No thanks.

7. See all seven wonders of the world/8. Visit the Egyptian Pyramids—You can’t visit all seven wonders these days, and the pyramids are one of them anyway. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing the ones that are left.

9. Invent something that changes lives—Meh.

10. Visit Antarctica—Definitely not.

11. Go on the Orient Express—Would like to do.

12. Go on an African Safari—No thanks.

13. See the Taj Mahal—Meh.

14. Learn to play the piano / guitar / drums—Done two of these, ish.

15. Stay a night at the world’s best hotel—No thanks.

16. Build your own house—No thanks.

17. Drive Route 66 in the US—Meh.

18. Go to Lapland—What the heck? Does the average person really want to do this? I have no idea where Lapland even is.

19. Swim with dolphins / sharks—Would like to swim with dolphins. Not so much with the sharks…

20. Emigrate—Done it.

21. Learn to speak another language—Done it.

22. Own an island—Too much hassle.

23. Dine at a Michelin star restaurant—Done it.

24. Write a novel—Would like to do. Need a plot first, though, and maybe some characters…

25. See Gorillas in the wild—No thanks.

26. Live and work abroad—Done it. This is the same as no. 20, anyway.

27. Hot air balloon ride—Done it.

28. Fly a plane—No thanks.

29. Travel New Zealand in a Winnebago—Again, do people really want to do this? Seems really specific. Anyway, it’s a maybe for me.

30. Start and run your dream business—No thanks.

31. Ride a Segway—Okay, this one would be fun.

32. Go to Disneyworld—Done it.

33. Gamble in Las Vegas—No thanks.

34. Act as an extra in a Hollywood film—Meh.

35. Dedicate time to volunteering—Done it.

36. Try out an F1 car—Meh.

37. Learn to fly a plane or helicopter—No thanks. Same as no. 28 anyway, surely? I definitely don’t want people flying planes who haven’t learned how to do it first.

38. Have a family—Um. Someday.

39. Be an extra in a movie—This is the same as no. 34.

40. Climb a mountain like Everest—No thanks.

41. Buy a yacht—Only once I’ve achieved no. 1. Even then I might prefer just to rent.

42. Meet your idol / favourite celebrity—Done it. Ask me about meeting Robert Plant if you want your face bored off.

43. Run a marathon—No thanks.

44. Watch a World Cup final—I watched one on television, does that count?

45. Meet the Queen—Nah, don’t give a crap. She’s not my queen.

46. Learn to surf—Done it.

47. Go to Harry Potter World in Florida—Would like to do.

48. Abseil down a mountain—This could be fun.

49. Do an army assault course—No thanks.

50. Deep sea dive—Definitely not.

So I’ve done 10, maybe 11 of these. Twice the average. Not bad.

…comes from Heresy Corner’s latest, ‘Screwed by the state‘:

You’d think, though, looking at it from the outside (as I do) that the actual fucking police literally fucking duped activists and then using an obscure legal procedure to deny their victims open justice would interest people who call themselves radical and progressive rather more than a throwaway remark made by one self-identified feminist journalist, or even the genuinely offensive comments made by another high-profile feminist journalist a few days later in her defence, which is at the end of the day just words. You’d think so.

Ah, those weeks following an American presidential election. Tempers calm, fanaticism wanes, and wishful thinking becomes wistful thinking. The news is all about deconstruction of the results, and peace reigns until next year (when everything ramps up again before the mid-terms).

So what is the deconstruction?

Both sides are postulating the existence of a permanent Democratic majority in the American populace, a turning point reached wherein there are no longer enough people in the country who benefit from Republican policies to be able to elect them. Talk on blogs is of the 47% plus the 1% in permanent coalition (though that still only makes 48%).

Looking at the results on the map, though, I’m not sure I get that. Obama won in the states the Democrats usually win in, and Romney won in the states Republicans usually win in.

Why, then, is there all this talk of Republicans never taking the presidency again? Why is Janet Daley writing in the Telegraph about the Europeanisation of the American electorate when all that happened was that a Democratic incumbent won again? They sometimes do, you know. Clinton did. The pendulum swings back.

Maybe it’s something to do with why people voted the way they did. Election analysis, pre- and post-, loves to delve into “what the election is all about.” I remember in 2004, people were saying the election was being fought on values: patriotism, Jesus, and the American Way. Bush won because Americans were still proud of themselves and thought America was the greatest place on Earth. Kerry lost because he was “too European” and considered a dweeb who had never done an honest day’s work.

That certainly wasn’t what the election in 2008 was about. You don’t vote for hope and change unless you feel hopeless and stuck, so there was something wrong with the brand already.

What happened to the brand? Did people stop believing in the American dream? Is the United States still the land of the free, where an honest day’s work gets you an honest day’s pay?

I’m not sure what people thought in 2008, but I’m pretty sure I know what they think now: the American Way is a clapped-out clunker. If you’re an Average Joe, working in an average job, paying down a modest mortgage, bringing up a modest family, and modest town somewhere, you don’t expect your country to fail you. After all, you’re doing your bit. When, for no reason you can divine, your company goes bust, you lose your job, your house is repossessed, and you have to go on food stamps, you kinda lose that patriotism, don’t you? You definitely lose your pride.

And here comes this Romney guy, talking about how he stands for hard-working Americans and the virtue of honest toil, and you probably hate him just a little bit for it. If his American Way is so great, how come your life sucks so much?

Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame for the economic situation in the US and around the world. What mattered in this election was the number of Americans who knew it wasn’t their fault, and who couldn’t understand this dude effectively telling them to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. If that worked, they might have thought to themselves, they’d have done it already. But just as they clearly had no power to prevent the collapse, neither did they feel like they had the power to recover from it through their own efforts.

And I think that’s basically why Obama won. He acknowledged that these average people were both blameless and powerless, and suggested that as it was the government that got them into this mess, thus it was the government’s duty to get them out of it again.

So all of the chatter in the aftermath that this election was fought on how Americans feel about the role of their government is right; I just think the commentators have it backwards. American voters haven’t embraced big government as the way to a fairer society (although maybe some of them have). They’ve looked big government in the eye and said “You sons of bitches broke it. Now you fucking fix it. We’ll just sit over here and wait until you’re done.”

There’s a degree to which I sympathise with this point of view, but I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed. There’s a reason people say “It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always wins.” The solution to the problem isn’t more of the problem, and if you feel like the much-abused little guy getting stomped all over by the powers that be, you’re crazy if you think a nice guy like Obama is going to be able to put a stop to the stomping.

Obama probably is a nice guy, and probably wants to help, but fundamentally he is one guy amongst hundreds of thousands of government apparatchiks, special interest groups, think tanks, and corporate donors. And he is certainly one guy who said he was going to put a stop to the stomping in 2008, and totally failed. But I agree that he probably had more credibility in claiming this than Romney.

There is one outcome from this election that nobody seems to have made much of yet, and that is the announcement of Ron Paul Kenobi’s retirement. Americans, he says, would rather have the Empire than freedom, and least he can retire and not, like Cato Uticensis, feel compelled to put a sword through himself.

This article is not so much Lucas or Plutarch, though, as it is Seuss:

The Lorax said nothing. Just gave me a glance
just gave me a very sad, sad backward glance
as he lifted himself by the seat of his pants.
And I’ll never forget the grim look on his face
when he hoisted himself and took leave of this place
through a hole in the smog, without leaving a trace.
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks with one word…UNLESS.

Last time we spoke, I had some predictions for ye olde election, and they all came true. Just call me Cassandra. Allow me to refresh your memory.

(1) Obama will win.*

He did.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won…Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

They did. The Republicans have kept the House. I HOPE Obama is looking FORWARD to the total absence of CHANGE in the House’s attitude toward his policies. It’s going to be a hard four years for the guy, and I hope all of those people who said he would use this second term to really fix his slice on the golf course are right, otherwise we might see the first presidential suicide in history.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November.

Turns out I was late to the party on this one. This New York Times article from 6 September states:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Whether President Obama wins or loses in November, one thing is certain for Democrats on the morning after Election Day: the 2016 auditions begin.

A buncha people I’ve never heard of are in the running, plus Joe Biden (not fucking likely), Hillary Clinton (okay, maybe) and Andrew Cuomo (he’ll be lucky if he’s even still governor of New York by that point).

Then, the prediction I was most certain would happen:

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

He didn’t even carry his home state.

Ryan is toast.

*Looking on the bright side: at least I don’t have to retire my “oops! Obama” tag.

(1) Obama will win.

Not even Romney’s own party likes Romney all that much, so any vote for Romney is essentially a vote against Obama. And while there are a lot of people out there who would enjoy sticking it to Obama, all of the presidential elections I’ve been alive for suggest that “voting against” is vastly inferior to “voting for” as a source of motivation.

Just ask Mondale, George HW Bush, Dole, and Kerry. Especially Kerry.

(2) It won’t matter that Obama has won.

If Obama thinks he’s had a hard time up to now, it’s nothing compared to what he’ll suffer when his apologists melt away because they don’t have to care about getting him re-elected any more. They’ll be looking for their 2016 candidate at 8am on 7th November. Republicans don’t have to vote for Romney to piss in Obama’s cornflakes, they only have to vote for Republican congressional candidates, which they will do.

I think the Republican party knows this, and therefore haven’t really exerted themselves to put up a compelling candidate. As Andy Parsons put it on “Mock the Week” the other night, they’ve decided to run a guy who lost the nomination to the guy who lost the nomination to George W Bush. Many critics from within the Republican camp attribute this to an “it’s his turn” mentality, but I think it’s probably just that the party bigwigs don’t give a crap this time around.

Any Republican who won this year would probably be a one-term president, because the economy is in the shitter and you can bet that the media—who are ignoring this point at the moment to help out Obama—wouldn’t be ignoring it in 2016 if the incumbent were a Republican.

Much better to give Romney his way, shrug sadly when he loses, and proceed to torment the ever-loving shit out of a now-friendless Obama for four years, thus paving the way for a charismatic Republican to win in 2016 and 2020.

(3) Paul Ryan’s career in the big-time is over.

There is nothing more damaging in American politics than being the VP candidate to a guy who loses. I mean, apart from their VP run, do these names mean anything to you?

  • Geraldine Ferraro
  • Lloyd Bentsen
  • Jack Kemp
  • John Edwards

Okay, that last one might mean something to you because he’s now known as the guy who was indicted for using campaign funds to cover up the affair and love child he had while his wife was dying of cancer. But if that hadn’t happened, John Edwards would be a total nobody.

I won’t be voting in this election because I don’t believe in this faux-democratic bullshit and I don’t support either party. But I’m going to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt and assume they’ve used this presidential election, which it wouldn’t benefit them to win, to purge the lunatics, also-rans, and has-beens from the nomination slate, and are gearing up to stick it to their weakened, herdless prey.

I mean, it’s what they did to Clinton, and that turned out pretty well, no?

So, archaeologists from the University of Leicester think they may have found Richard III’s earthly remains under a council car park in Leicester, although the DNA tests they’re conducting won’t be finished for another 3 months.

This is a subject rather close to my heart: I even used to be a member of the Richard III Society and everything. If those remains do turn out to be Richard III’s, I will probably have to have a private moment. Ten years ago, when I was first studying all this, it was a source of pain to all Ricardians everywhere that, to the best of everyone’s knowledge, Richard’s bones were sleeping with the fishes in the river Soar thanks to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Now that might change, and Richard III will get the site of cultic worship his supporters have always wanted.

However.

That site might be, of all places, in the Anglican cathedral in Leicester. Which—really? This deeply Catholic man is going to have his final resting place in the Anglican cathedral of the city where he was freaking bludgeoned to death? And all because the University of Leicester, who dug him up, and Leicester City Council, whose car park he was found in, would like to reap the benefits of Ricardian tourism?

How insulting.

I’m not going to claim I can read the mind of a man who’s been dead since 1485, but there are probably a lot of better alternatives which might have been more palatable to the man himself. It’s not his fault he didn’t have the luxury of specifying his wishes about a final resting place, so I’m not sure it’s particularly tasteful to be treating the poor man’s bones like the private property of the institution that dug them up.

If the royal family themselves don’t get involved—I mean, come on, if those bones are really Richard III’s, he’s basically their cousin forty times removed or something—it really ought to be up to whoever’s paying for the interment, which I suspect will be the Richard III Society, to decide where the burial is located.

If I were still a member of that society, I’d certainly be arguing for some alternative place that had something to do with Richard III other than being the place where he was done to death by his own allies. York, maybe, which bravely paid tribute to him in their city annals after the battle of Bosworth, or one of the castles where he actually lived, or even Berwick-upon-Tweed, which he won back from the Scots.

I mean, of all the places the dude probably would have hated to be buried, the only place worse than the Anglican cathedral in Leicester would be in Henry VII’s lap at Westminster Abbey. Geez.

UPDATE: @Fat_Jacques points out that Leicester Cathedral was Catholic in 1485, as indeed were all of the lovely ecclesiastical buildings at the time that the Church of England later stole. Which is a good point, but of course it’s not the building that’s the problem, it’s the funeral rite itself. What medieval Catholic would want an Anglican funeral service?

There’s also the political point to think about; Richard III isn’t any medieval Catholic, he’s a medieval Catholic who was snuffed by the father of the man who founded the Anglican church. Which is kind of why the title of this blog post is “Give the poor man a break”—he’s suffered enough indignities without piling this one on, too.

Chris Dillow asks:

One remarkable feature of the Conservative party since the late 19th century has been that it has been the party of most of the rich. It has more or less successfully represented the interests of land-owners, rentiers, industrialists and commerce…

What I am doing, though, is raising a question. It’s long been a cliche that Labour’s class base – industrial workers – is shrinking and fragmenting. But might the same be also true for the Tories?

In the context he mentions—that of commerce’s interests conflicting with the land-owners’ interest, particularly regarding a third runway at Heathrow—I think he’s right, but in answer to the greater question he poses, I think he’s also right.

Which is unusual, because a lot of the time, I don’t agree with Chris Dillow.

However, sometimes—especially when he writes about managerialism and where the major parties go wrong—I find myself nodding along.

The majority of people in Britain today are neither land-owners of the old sort, rentiers, industrialists, ‘commerce,’ or industrial workers. Relying on these groups, singly or in combination, is not going to give any major party enough votes to stay in power (though it might provide enough financial support to keep a party going). Thus the never-ending race to the centre ground, and the fact that both the Conservatives and Labour have seen their traditional class bases shrinking and fragmenting.

When society is no longer divided along the traditional class lines—no matter how much people want to cling to this way of looking at life’s great pageant—the political parties can’t work that way either, and when they try to keep at it, as they so obviously are, they end up pissing off their voters, which they have.

It would be interesting to see the opinion-formers shake off the old dogma about class and try to identify where the lines are really drawn these days—private vs public sector workers, maybe, or workers vs non-workers, or even (god forbid) British vs foreigners—but I don’t really see that happening anytime soon. For one thing, it’s widely socially acceptable to fulminate against rentiers, industrialists, unions, etc., whereas it’s generally unacceptable to fulminate against your average worker, non-worker, or foreigner (although interestingly, in the case of foreigners, this only applies to non-whites—apparently you can bitch about Polish people all you like without being considered racist). For another, to acknowledge new class-based groups is to redraw the distinction between left and right, which probably suits neither the left nor the right, and is why the opinion-formers don’t do it and why the political parties in this country have such schizophrenic views.

A lot of people seem to approve of this schizophrenia (“It’s, like, not ideological, man”), but I think there’s something seriously wrong with it: if you’re a voter who cares about the actual, stated policies of political parties, it’s impossible to really like any of them because there’s always some conflict. For example, I really like the Lib Dem policy of raising the personal tax allowance, but I really dislike their policy on Lords reform. It’s not that I think Lords reform is an inherently bad idea, it’s just that I think their particular proposal is the wrong one.

And the end result is that this contributes to the huge voter apathy people are always banging on about. It’s not the only contributor, by any means, but it certainly is one of them. I’m not a land-owner, rentier, or industrialist, so the Conservatives aren’t looking out for my interests. I’m not an industrial worker, so Labour isn’t either. I’m employed, so everyone’s trying to represent me, but one day I might be unemployed, so everyone’s still trying to represent me. You see? How does your average person even choose these days?

These modern class divisions, unlike the old ones, are fluid, and I might be on one side today and the other side tomorrow. It’s no wonder the political parties are suffering fractures.

Maybe, instead of trying to represent specific classes or groups, it’s time for the parties to return to ideology, and let the chips fall where they may. That would, at least, be internally consistent and supply an actual framework for how parties might respond to unexpected issues, rather than the bizarre pendulum of expedience we get now. Then people could decide whom to vote for based on actual value systems rather than tedious detail about e.g. government funding for house-building in the green belt.

(Incidentally, can anybody think of a political issue that is more crazy-making than housing? It’s like this great battle between those who think everyone should have a chance to get on the property ladder, those who don’t want estates built near their village, those who want more social housing built to ease the housing shortage, those who don’t want the environment ruined by paving over the nation with suburbs, those who don’t want the value of their own homes to fall due to increased supply, and those who only want houses built in places where there is enough public transport to stop people driving cars. I would hate to hold the housing brief for any of the major parties and try to tread that minefield.)

UPDATE: Here’s another take on Chris’s thesis, with more of a focus on reducing the conflict-based nature of party politics.

Punk is dead,’ asserts Chris Dillow today.

In this, music reflects a wider social fact—that today’s young people are much less gobby than we were. Last summer’s riots, for example, contained less political motive than their 1981 equivalents. And much as I love them, today’s “voices of their generation” are pretty tame…This is not because of a lack of cause. Today’s youngsters have the same grievances as my generation – youth unemployment and police harassment—and then some.

So why are young folk so passive?

He presents a number of possibilities: today’s oldsters are more tolerant, today’s youth are the captive slaves of mega-materialist capitalism, etc.

At no point does he consider that today’s youth are passive because that’s how Chris Dillow’s generation taught them to be.

I’ve written about this before…

But we live in a curiously dishonest world, wherein baby-boomers hold all of the power and then complain that the youth are disaffected and disengaged, unlike themselves when they were ‘the youth.’ In fact, most of the policies advocated by the baby-boomers in power seem deliberately designed to keep ‘the youth’ dependent on them, which is a perfect recipe for further disaffection and disengagement.

Let us consider recent proposals in Britain dealing with ‘the youth.’

(a) Compulsory education or training to age 18. This keeps ‘the youth’ under the control of the state (read: baby-boomer run) education system until legal adulthood.

(b) Sending more of the population to university. This keeps ‘the youth’ under the control of the state (read: baby-boomer run and operated) education system until well into adulthood.

(c) Government-provided work and training for graduates who can’t find jobs. This keeps ‘the youth’ (who are now into their twenties) dependent on the state (run by baby-boomers) for sustenance and the acquisition of skills.

(d) Parent training courses. This sends the message to ‘the youth’ who have dared to reproduce that despite their biological fitness for the job, they are mentally and emotionally unfit to raise offspring without guidance from the state (i.e. baby-boomers, those proven experts in child-rearing).

All of these policies could not make more perfectly clear the belief of baby boomers that ‘the youth’ of today are unfit to make decisions for themselves, support themselves, or support other humans; and yet still the baby boomers complain that ‘the youth’ don’t take responsibility for themselves and agitate for their own benefit.

…more than once:

Mind you, our ex-hippy [ex-punk?] overlords seem particularly distraught that the voice of the new generation is a weak one. A couple of days ago, I wrote that it was a key feature of the baby-boom generation to strangle the life out of today’s youth and then demand to know why it wasn’t trying to breathe.

And lo, what should be in the newspaper on Monday but the results of a poll showing that today’s youth are ‘more boring’ than their parents.

Having been told from birth to shun smoking, drinking, sex, drugs, and pretty much anything else that could be interpreted as either exciting or ‘interesting,’ the yoof turn out to be rather hard-line Puritans. Quelle surprise. And for this, the baby-boomers have the nerve to complain that their kids are no fucking fun.

If you want angry, empowered youth, then don’t spend the first 25 years of their lives teaching them that the bland, unquestioning, isolating conformity which suits your desire to retain cultural and social dominance is for their own good.

Your methods of upbringing are what created today’s 23-year-olds who fret over whether they can afford to buy a house in Barnes. Your parental indulgence is why others of your children still live in your council house with three kids of their own, no spouse, and no job.

You didn’t teach them to see the value in standing up for their future because you didn’t want them to do that—because it might hurt yours. You’ve told them all of their lives that somebody else would sort out their problems, take their part, and make the world right for them; you’ve taught them that dependence has no cost and entitlements have no price and one’s desires are automatically others’ debts to pay—why should they not believe you now? You have no right to complain. You promised them the earth; they’re just waiting patiently for you to provide it for them.

I’ve been reading the transcripts of and commentary about the US Supreme Court arguments taking place this week about the constitutionality of the “individual mandate” and associated penalty contained within the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010).

Before I get into any analysis, a seeming triviality: many of the news reports about this case are noting the fact that its opponents refer to the act as “Obamacare,” as if this were some kind of novel piece of slang. It’s not. What’s new is that, ahead of these oral arguments, the Act’s supporters have started embracing the term instead of discouraging its use, as if Barack Obama himself has delivered this manna to the unhealthy. Frankly, I don’t think Obama has even read the full text of this legislation, so I refuse to give him sole credit (or blame) for it, and will refer to it by its acronym PPACA, which is the norm when referring to legislation of the American Congress. (What, did you think PATRIOT Act was capitalised because it’s a big deal? No: it’s because it’s the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. American politicians are nothing if not massively cheesy.)

Now let’s address why I’m writing this blog post. This case is an extraordinarily big deal, and you will have a hard time understanding why if all you read is the news media accounts of the arguments. The American media does not want to go into any great analysis of the issue, for fear that you might draw your own conclusions, and the British media does not understand the significance. In the British media in particular, you will find reporters utterly baffled by what appears, to them, to be a sneaky, underhand challenge of the president himself under the pretext of a legal technicality.

Whether or not a law, or a part of a law, is constitutional is simply not a legal technicality. The Constitution is the basis for all federal government in the United States. The federal government simply may not make laws that contravene, or surpass, what the Constitution allows it to do. The law, or the provision within the law, cannot be imposed upon the American people if it is not constitutional. And one of the basic rights Americans have is to challenge the federal government about the constitutionality of its laws. That British journalists don’t seem (or want) to grasp this, simply because they personally think the PPACA is a good thing, makes them shitty journalists.

So. What is the issue at stake?

The challenge to the PPACA is about the provisions in section 5000A, which require Americans to be covered by health insurance (whether purchased individually or through their employer) or incur a penalty. These parts of the law are collectively referred to as the “individual mandate” or the “minimum coverage provision.”

The challengers, in this case, are a number of American states and some associated individuals. Their basic contention is that the US Constitution does not permit the federal government to compel people to purchase health insurance when they are not purchasing health care services.

In this case, you have two participants: the challengers, and the US federal government (as represented by the Solicitor General). This case has gone through the federal courts already, and the Supreme Court agreed at the back end of 2011 to hear it. This is significant: the Supreme Court can choose not to hear cases, so the fact it has chosen to hear this one means the Court believes that there is enough doubt about the matter, or enough importance about the question at hand, to make it an issue worth settling. The Court’s decision is binding and, in this case, may also be precedent-setting. (This is kind of what puzzles me about the position of many British journalists; if the high court of the US thinks it’s important enough to discuss, who are you to call it a trivial technicality?)

But enough about British journalists. Part of the reason reportage about this case is so crappy is that there are lots of different strands of argument involved, not all of which make a lot of sense if you consider them in isolation.

For example, yesterday’s arguments centred around whether or not the Court could even hear the case. Here’s the background: as the case has made its way through the lower levels of courts, the government’s position has been that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance is, effectively, a tax, and taxes do not come under the jurisdiction of any court until the complainant has paid the tax, requested administrative redress, and been refused. Then, and only then, can the complainant bring suit. (Challenges to tax are covered under a law called the Anti-Injunction Act.) The government’s argument has been that, since the mandate and penalty/tax do not come into force until 2014, the law cannot be challenged on those grounds in 2012, because nobody has yet paid the tax and therefore nobody can at this point bring suit.

Interestingly, once the Court agreed to hear the case, the government switched positions, and yesterday argued before the justices that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Because the challengers were making the same argument, the Court had to appoint independent counsel (the amicus curiae) to argue that the penalty is a tax. Ultimately, yesterday, the Court appeared to accept that the penalty is not a tax subject to the Anti-Injunction Act. Nobody was surprised by this; why would the Court schedule three days of argument about the matter if it envisioned recusing itself after the first day?

So. We proceed to today’s arguments, which were about the constitutionality of the mandate itself. I have read the transcript, but I am not a lawyer, so take what I am about to describe with the understanding that I am both ignorant and naive to a certain extent. However, you can read the stuff yourself on the SCOTUS website; the arguments were very accessible to the layman.

The government argued as follows. In the Constitution, the federal government is allowed the power to regulate commerce, and issues affecting commerce, between the states (the “Commerce Clause”). There are two commercial markets at issue: one is for health care services, and one is for health insurance. All people in the US are participants in the health care market, because all people in the US will require health care at some point. Health insurance is the method by which people finance their health care in the US, and therefore all people are technically participants in the health insurance market also. Ergo, Congress has the right to regulate both, as both constitute interstate commerce, even to the point of requiring people to purchase health insurance at a given point in time, because their failure to do so is an issue that affects commerce within that market.

(There is also a whole bunch of stuff about how the penalty for not buying is a tax, but I didn’t follow that part too well, and since the government argued yesterday that it is only kind of a tax, I’m not sure how germane the point is anyway.)

What it is important to understand about the government’s position is that, in the US, even if you do not have health insurance, you cannot be refused health care. So what happens is that people without the means to pay for their health care nevertheless receive it, which drives up the cost of care, which in turn drives up premiums for those people who are insured. So the government is arguing that because some people’s failure to insure themselves affects the price of everyone’s health care and insurance, Congress has the right to interfere in the purchasing (or not) of health insurance under the justification of the Commerce Clause.

By compelling people to purchase insurance (and penalising/taxing people if they don’t), the government’s aim is to reduce the free rider problem and thus lower the cost of care and insurance premiums.

If you read the transcript, Solicitor General Verrilli does a lot of waffling about the “40 million Americans who don’t have access to care,” but the upshot of what he’s saying is this: actually, these people can get care, they just don’t pay for it. So in order to cover the cost of people who can’t pay for the care they definitely do get, everyone has to be insured. That way, the insurance companies can use the premiums paid by the healthy to subsidise the cost of the care for unhealthy people who can’t pay for it themselves. Thus, because everybody is affected by this way of ensuring poor people can still get health care, Congress can do what it chooses, including compelling purchase, to deal with the problem.

So far, so clear. The system envisioned in the PPACA is one of the healthy subsidising the unhealthy.

The challengers argument was somewhat more complicated.

First, they disputed the “everybody is a participant” claim. Many of the Americans who do not have health insurance are young, healthy people who choose to spend their money on something else, believing themselves to be at low risk of requiring health care. Thus, these people are not, at a given point in time, participants in either the health care or health insurance market. The Commerce Clause, they say, does not give the government the right to compel people to participate in these markets when they otherwise would not choose to do so.

Second, they disputed that the health care and health insurance markets are so intertwined as make eventual participation in the one the justification for forced participation in the other. There are, they said, other means of subsidising the unhealthy who cannot pay for their care than compelling the purchase of health insurance. Social Security was brought up: a general tax, linked to income, levied on everyone, which the federal government then disburses to those requiring the payments, would be constitutional in a way the mandate is not, because the Constitution does give the federal government the right to levy taxes. (This is, in fact, how Medicare and Medicaid work at the moment.) The challengers also pointed out that the problem the provision is attempting to solve is one created by the government in the first place: namely, the government forces emergency rooms to treat those who cannot pay, and it forces insurance companies to insure high-risk individuals. If it did not do those things, there would not be a free rider problem, and so there are other solutions than the mandate imposed by the PPACA.

During the arguments, the justices focused particularly keenly on two problems with these issues: (1) are the health markets unique, and if so, what specifically is the limiting principle that will stop the federal government from engaging in compulsory purchase in other markets? and (2) if the challengers concede that the federal government can force people to purchase health insurance at the point of purchasing health care itself (which, apparently, they do concede), what is the problem, precisely, with moving that point of compulsion forward in time, when it will have the most beneficial effects?

A lot of today’s commentary was along the lines of “Obamacare in danger of being struck down,” because the justices seemed particularly pointed and hostile in their questioning, but I think this is premature. The mandate may be ideologically horrific to the average American mindset, but that does not mean it is unconstitutional. And the role of the justices is to pick holes in the arguments and expose the weaknesses; that doesn’t mean those weaknesses are fatal. The most aggressive questioning came from Justice Scalia, and I admit the Solicitor General didn’t seem particularly articulate in his answers—at one point, Justice Sotomayor summed up his argument for him much better than he had done, and he didn’t seem to notice—but that doesn’t mean his points are invalid.

There were a lot of other issues and sidelines in the arguments, but there was one point that came out pretty strongly to me, and it was made by Michael Carvin for the challengers. What he argued, in effect, was that the government’s own argument is self-contradicting. At the moment, people with insurance effectively subsidise those without. Under the PPACA, people with insurance will effectively subsidise those without. There is no difference in where the cost is borne; it is always borne by the people with insurance. What the PPACA proposes to do is to increase the pool of insured people to pay the subsidy, thereby spreading the cost over a larger base. The PPACA itself, and the government, admit this is the entire purpose of the mandate: to make healthy people who do not currently purchase health care purchase insurance in order to cover the cost of those people who cannot pay for the health care they purchase.

Therefore, the government is implicitly admitting that there are some people who are outside the market, who need to be drawn into the market in order to spread the cost of subsidy around—and since that is the whole purpose of the mandate, the existence of the mandate demonstrates that not everybody is a participant in these markets, and therefore are not engaging in commerce that can be regulated in this way by Congress.

It’s a neat little argument, and I wish he’d been more explicit about how circular it is. He does call it “bootstrapping,” though, and it’s true. If everyone was a participant in these markets, which is the government’s justification for this falling within the power of the Commerce Clause, there would be no need for the mandate; but because the point of the mandate is to make everyone participate, it is itself an admission that not everyone does, and therefore it can’t be justified by the claim that everyone is already a participant, because if they were, the government wouldn’t need to mandate that they participate.

The only other interesting thing to point out is that, although everyone involved seems keen not to get into the merits of the law as a whole, with the whole, y’know, making sure people don’t bankrupt themselves in order to stay healthy, the people who are most prone to talking about the merits of the law appear to be the justices themselves. This is why I think the commentators are premature: while it’s nice to think that Supreme Court judges are impartial, they’re not. They’re perfectly capable of allowing their approval of the aim of the PPACA to bias their views on its constitutionality—and by the same token, of allowing their repugnance at the methods of the PPACA to affect their judgment of its intention.

And that’s true of a lot of people right now, I think. Health care in the United States is totally fucked up, and I don’t think it’s really possible to dispute that. However, the PPACA is not the only possible solution to the problems, and my personal view is that it’s about the worst one, in fact. But people on the right are in danger of defending a really shitty situation when they attack this law, and people on the left are in danger of defending a really shitty law when they attack the current situation.

This is why, going back to the beginning, the label “Obamacare” is so pernicious. Would people really be as blindly and tribally partisan about this law if it didn’t involve a cult of personality and were, instead, the boring old PPACA?

Read the transcript for Monday’s arguments.

Read the transcript for Tuesday’s arguments.

Other libertarian bloggers have written about this phenomenon already, that there have been a spate of attack pieces in the media about the follies of libertarianism, probably as a result of Ron Paul’s popularity, but not necessarily. We like to see this sort of stuff, because nobody bothers fighting against an unsuccessful opposing ideology. You don’t tend to see polemics against Nazis these days. If fatuous left-wing commentators are attacking libertarianism, it means we’re winning!

This is not to say there isn’t always anti-libertarian guff from the left wing, because that would be to deny the constant, low-level contempt thrown at us by Rousseauistes whose goal for humanity extends no further than meeting the animal instinct for a full belly. But I digress. To see high-level anti-libertarian guff is rarer, and therefore more meaningful when it shows up. It’s just a shame that our first instinct is to interpret this attention as victory.

***

Exhibit A: George Monbiot, that second-rate St Paul for the Guardian (motto: “Comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable”), took on libertarians twice in two weeks. His first piece, “How Freedom Became Tyranny,” might as well have been nicked wholesale from the Brer Fox playbook.

Modern libertarianism is the disguise adopted by those who wish to exploit without restraint. It pretends that only the state intrudes on our liberties. It ignores the role of banks, corporations and the rich in making us less free. It denies the need for the state to curb them in order to protect the freedoms of weaker people. This bastardised, one-eyed philosophy is a con trick, whose promoters attempt to wrongfoot justice by pitching it against liberty. By this means they have turned “freedom” into an instrument of oppression.

Oh, no, Mr Monbiot, please don’t throw me in the briar patch!

Monbiot’s whole piece leads up to that conclusion with the standard dodgy rhetoric and facetious analogies that are no stranger to any libertarian. We’re argumentative creatures, so it’s tempting to fisk this pile of manure, but if I’ve done it once, I’ve done it a hundred times, and I credit Monbiot with enough sense to know he’s just putting libertarians into their comfort zone with this one. No, this article is merely the set-up. Draw libertarians into making their usual tasty rebuttals about negative freedom, property rights, and the non-aggression axiom, so that you can deliver the blow with this: “Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change.”

Look at the libertarian, trapped by his own arguments!

Let us accept the idea that damage to the value of property without the owner’s consent is an unwarranted intrusion upon the owner’s freedoms. What this means is that as soon as libertarians encounter environmental issues, they’re stuffed.

Climate change, industrial pollution, ozone depletion, damage to the physical beauty of the area surrounding people’s homes (and therefore their value), all these, if the libertarians did not possess a shocking set of double standards, would be denounced by them as infringements on other people’s property.

How neatly Monbiot skewers us. Either we care about property rights as a form of freedom, and we reveal ourselves as blinkered anti-science tribalists; or our denial of climate change exposes our devotion to property rights and freedom as a flimsy pretence for poor-hating selfishness. Either way, he’s happy, and we’re “stuffed.” You see, children? Don’t be seduced by the libertarian, after all. The puppet-master has just made him put a bullet through his own foot.

Or not. Good little libertarians have read their Rothbard, unlike Monbiot, so instead of shooting our own feet, we feel like we’ve patted our own backs. Well done to us, anticipating this trap by 30 years! Well done indeed. When the public at large gets round to reading Rothbard too—surely just around the corner, any day now—they’ll see we were right all along.

Exhibit B: Jeffrey Sachs, jumping on the bandwagon, holds forth in the Huffington Post with “Libertarian Illusions.” Unlike Monbiot, Sachs is writing to reinforce the average HuffPo reader’s herd instinct. (Take a look at the article’s tags, too: they’re hilarious.)

You see, children? Don’t be seduced by the libertarian—not because he is wrong, but because he is, like, unenlightened, man. His conscience is less exquisitely sensitive than yours, and in his quest for justice (a fine thing, to be sure), he overlooks the infinitely more spiritual delights of forgiveness.

It’s beguiling to focus one’s activist energies on something as unopposable as liberty (and it is a good thing, to be sure), but… what about all that other stuff, you know? Stuff like compassion, and help for the weak. Those are all good things too, as you already believe: don’t they deserve your energy too? Freedom isn’t the only unassailable good thing.

By taking an extreme view—that liberty alone is to be defended among all of society’s values—libertarians reach extreme conclusions. Suppose a rich man has a surfeit of food and a poor man living next door is starving to death. The libertarian says that the government has no moral right or political claim to tax the rich person in order to save the poor person. Perhaps the rich person should be generous and give charity to the neighbor, the libertarian might say (or might not), but there is nothing that the government should do. The moral value of saving the poor person’s life simply does not register when compared with the liberty of the rich person.

Most ethical and political systems find the libertarian position abhorrent, indeed preposterous. Most would hold that the government can, should, and indeed must, tax the rich person to save the poor person. That’s because most ethical and political systems hold that liberty is only one value among many important values, and that the value of the indigent’s life takes priority over the liberty of the rich individual.

For all of you philosophers out there (and there are many, you’re all such enlightened thinkers), libertarianism is unethical: it is a rejection of deep spiritualism!

This view is the opposite of Christian charity and Buddhist compassion, according to which moral worth is achieved by helping others.

For the economically-minded, remember that even the great free-market thinkers didn’t think liberty was the finest thing in life! You don’t have to be a Marxist to believe libertarianism is wrong.

The affirmative role of government includes public education, promotion of science and technology, environmental protection, and the provision of infrastructure. Friedman and Hayek both championed a state guarantee of basic needs for all citizens.

And for the political activists, well, you and I both know that government doesn’t have to be the enemy of liberty, any more than it is the enemy of compassion or helping the vulnerable.

Modern history has shown that activist democratic governments, ones that provide public goods and help for the poor, do not really threaten liberty. In Scandinavia, for example, where the governments are much more activist than in the United States, democracy is very vibrant and far less corrupt than in the U.S.

So while it’s tempting to be a libertarian and simplify everything to questions of freedom, the only people who really do this are vulgar materialists whose limited horizons prevent them from joining you in working toward a world of the impossible good. After all:

America has achieved it greatness not through a single-minded ideology but through pragmatism and the wisdom to embrace several important values. A vast majority of Americans today embrace liberty, civic responsibility, and compassion, and seek a government built upon all three. We are the better individuals and a much stronger society for it.

Good little leftists: the libertarian may have one or two ideas, but you were right all along!

***

Do these kind of attacks represent a victory for libertarians? I don’t know. It’s difficult to counter something like Monbiot when your vindicating text is fringe literature most people are never going to read, and with people like Sachs blowing smoke up the enemy’s backside, you need a much bigger prick than Ron Paul to pop that smug self-satisfaction.

This is what I always wonder about libertarianism: we have the tactics to advance, sure, but do we have the strategy to win? Somehow I doubt it. When, as a group, your dearest-held moral values are non-aggression and individual agency, you tend to eschew the Monbiot-Sachs Plan of ambushing your enemies and brainwashing your allies.

In the NHS, there two main activities. One is helping sick people. The other is measuring, improving, correcting, extending, and promoting how well sick people are helped. Much energy is expended on the first activity: technical advances, new pharmaceuticals, further training for doctors and nurses in new ways to help sick people. But the more you read about the NHS, the more you get the feeling that a lot more energy is expended on the second activity.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with this; even in a business, delivering the product or service to customers is straightforward, if not always easy, and the bulk of business energy is expended on how to improve the product or service, how to measure whether or not it’s good, strategy for getting it in front of the market, selling it, and so forth. Large numbers of people are employed to do these things, and a lot of money is spent in doing them—money that is generated by the delivery side, both by delivering the goods and by finding new ways to reduce inputs and increase outputs. Greater productivity means greater profits, which can be taken home as pay or ploughed back into the rest of the business.

The difference between a business and the NHS, however, is that issue of money. Money is the simplest metric for business success: how much are we making? Allocating money in a business is also fairly simple: wages, tools, marketing, infrastructure, tax, in varying proportions, and what’s left over goes to the shareholders. And if the metric drops—we are making less money—the allocations drop too. Therefore business responds to money.

The NHS, on the other hand, doesn’t respond to money, because it doesn’t make any. You can argue whether this is an intrinsic function of what it does—healthcare—and you can even argue the ethical toss about measuring something as important as health by looking at money, but you can’t get away from the fact that the NHS has something to do with money, because helping sick people has a cost.

The NHS is sort of halfway in the market. It doesn’t directly charge its customers for its services, so it can’t respond to the “how much are we making?” money question. But it still has to answer “how do we allocate it?” and “what do we do if we have less to allocate?” Doctors and nurses don’t work for free, so it still has to think about wages. Medical supply manufacturers don’t manufacture for free—they are businesses, so they have to worry about how much money they’re making—and infrastructure has to be paid for as well. The NHS has all of the business problems of spending money, and none of the tidy business solution of earning it.

So when, in the NHS, the costs grow and/or the pool of money to spend shrinks, the sector has to find pseudo-business solutions to deal with this problem. “Pseudo” because what businesses do is frequently not an option for the NHS. For instance, a business could produce more goods or services. The NHS can’t do this, because it’s really unethical to go round trying to make people sick so that you can cure them more, but also because the NHS’s primary service—helping sick people—is actually a cost, and doesn’t make them any money. For the same reason, they can’t look for new markets like a business would, but also because the market for the NHS is already every person in Britain. Other solutions are simply odious. The NHS can borrow money, but their collateral isn’t private, so they end up mortgaging the public good. The NHS can ask patients to pay—private patients, or foreigners—but this invalidates the ideology that health shouldn’t depend on wealth. They can ask the government to raise taxes, but that’s a PR nightmare, and the existence of the NHS depends on people’s loyalty and goodwill.

So the NHS has only one option, and that is to reallocate its spending. Reduce the number of doctors and nurses treating the sick people, and thus lower the wage bill. Find cheaper suppliers, and thus lower the tools bill. Hire cheaper builders to patch up the estate, and thus lower the infrastructure bill. Use what you’ve saved to increase marketing healthy lifestyles, and hopefully the number of sick people will drop, and through all of these increases in productivity (in the NHS, it’s called “efficiency”), maybe you can break even, or even turn a profit (in the NHS, it’s called a “surplus”).

In the NHS, you can also do rain dances, make offerings, and perform collective prayer rituals that the UK economy flourishes enough for tax receipts to go up, giving the government the power to increase your budget again.

Unfortunately, all of these things make for a cumbersome and difficult-to-run healthcare system. Sacking nurses looks evil, and makes life harder for the other nurses. This, and using cheaper supplies, can literally endanger people’s lives. Infrastructure creaks as it gets older, and the population rapidly outgrows the limited space. Paying staff, suppliers, and contractors less reduces tax receipts. And public-health marketing is notoriously ineffective.

So what the hell do you do, if you’re the NHS? Do you say, “Fuck it, this half-business life is no life at all—let’s act like a real business and charge people money. Then if they pay us, we know we’re doing a decent job”? This doesn’t even have to mean that poor people die in the streets, because the government could just give them the money to buy their healthcare.

No. Instead, you bitch and moan and look for Rube-Goldberg-esque solutions to act as proxies for normal market behaviour. And then you can see why helping sick people is the least of what goes on in the NHS.

Let us consider, for example, the Health Service Journal, the premier trade journal for non-medical NHS staff. Does it have anything to do with awesome new and better ways of helping sick people? Does it fuck. It is Rube Goldberg literature for the Rube Goldberg system.

This week’s stories include:

(1) The way to improve the NHS’s effectiveness and efficiency is to set up an independent standing commission to look into the matter.

(2) Outsourcing middle management can, in ideal circumstances, reduce “overspend” (in the business world, “losses”).

(3) Medical unions are concerned that competition will lead to health “inequality.”

(4) A government quango will judge who is allowed to help sick people.

(5) The same quango prioritise patients over creditors when it puts private providers out of business by disallowing them from helping sick people.

(6) The same quango shouldn’t give NHS bodies credit ratings for borrowing purposes, because credit ratings are not an appropriate proxy for how well sick people are helped.

(7) Another government quango will measure how well sick people are helped by a series of inspections centred on 100 performance metrics.

(8) Another government quango will judge which GPs are allowed to buy healthcare from the NHS for sick people, but it will need management consultant help to do this.

(9) The GPs will also need to be helped to create a QIPP strategy. (QIPP stands for “quality, innovation, prevention, productivity.”)

(10) Publication of how well these 100 metrics are met may lead to health “inequality.”

(11) However, not publishing these data, because they are impossible to collect and monitor, is also unacceptable.

(12) PCTs can close down their competition but only if they don’t ask doctors whether or not they should do it.

(13) A commission will investigate whether imposing fines for making people sick with C. difficile will hurt hospitals.

(14) Some middle managers are unhappy about spending money, time, and energy on healthy lifestyle programmes for staff.

(15) Patients need a better way to complain about the quality of help they received when they were sick.

(16) In order to do all of this stuff, there needs to be a strategy for staff engagement.

(17) There also needs to be a strategy for adopting helpful technology.

And my personal favourite:

(18) “Salford Royal Foundation Trust’s clinical leaders development programme is part of an emerging organisational development strategy to engage senior medical staff in the business of clinical leadership and develop their talent.”

So there you have it. Because the NHS cannot measure how well it provides its service—helping sick people—by the money it makes from its customers, it has to invent Byzantine proxies, implemented and assessed with great energy and at enormous cost, none of which have anything to do with helping the sick people.

And why? Because this tremendous waste of time, money, talent, and human capital is preferred as a more humane outcome than letting sick people hand over money directly in order to get better.

Seriously, 3 identical ads on one web page. Spring CM, what do you want from me?

Spring CM is stalking me. Seriously.

As if its appeals process weren’t bullshit enough already, the UK Border Agency has recently announced policies to make it even worse.

First, even more payment required:

People who want to appeal against a decision notice dated 19 December 2011 or later will need to pay a fee. The appeal fee will apply to most categories of visas and decisions.

It already costs hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds to apply for a UK visa or work permit in the first place, an obvious money-making scam the British government uses to supplement its “revenue”. Now, if a would-be immigrant feels he or she has received an unjust refusal, that person will have to pay the UKBA more for the privilege of watching it judge its own decisions. Or rather, lie about having judged its own decisions, glorying in shutting down appeals without even investigating the case or leaving a paper trail of so doing.

Who wants to bet with me that in 2012 we’ll see the number of dodgy visa refusals rise astronomically for the purpose of hoovering up these appeal fees?

Second, this catch-22:

Also, from 19 December people will need to lodge their appeals at the tribunal in the UK. We will no longer accept appeals at any of our overseas visa application centres.

So if you want to lodge an appeal against refusal of a visa to enter Britain, you have to lodge it…in Britain?

Good one, guys.

The UK Border Agency and Home Office are shining beacons of fascism. Seriously. And before anyone leaps in to accuse me of racism against the British and tell me to fuck off back to wherever—yes, I know it’s worse in the US, and no, I didn’t vote for them.

Somewhat strangely this year, I find myself in possession of a vote of higher value than normal. Allow me to elaborate:

  • In 2008, the presidential popular vote in North Carolina was extremely close. Obama won the state’s electoral college votes by a margin of 0.32%, the equivalent of about 19,000 votes.
  • The current US Senate has 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans. Of these, North Carolina supplies 1 Democrat and 1 Republican.
  • The current US House of Representatives has 193 Democrats and 242 Republicans. Of these, North Carolina supplies 7 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

All of which means that, for the first time I can ever actually remember, North Carolina is an important swing state, where candidates are suddenly bothering to campaign—the Democrats have even chosen North Carolina’s biggest city to host their national convention this year. North Carolina might therefore just become a deciding factor in this year’s federal elections, and my vote, historically puny and pointless, this year carries some weight.

(Although not in the primaries, thanks to the NC General Assembly’s long-standing and well-attested tradition of constant gerrymandering.)

I thought I might bring this up for the purpose of drawing attention to a basic and amusing irony: I, suddenly possessed of an important vote, nevertheless don’t care; while many foreigners, possessed of no votes in the American elections at all, would give their eye-teeth to have it. What the United States political class does, so the argument goes, affects the world, so the world should have a vote. And yet it doesn’t, but I do.

And this is likely to be a dirty-fought and close-won election, in both legislative and executive branches.

I have therefore decided to offer my federal vote to one non-American person who gives a shit that is statistically significant from zero. I will vote the way you want in the presidential and congressional elections, whether it be for specific candidates or a straight-ticket party or not at all, or even spoil my ballot with amusing sayings. I stress that this is a gift, not a trade; I am conversant with North Carolina general statute 163-275 making it a class I felony to accept any thing of value whatsoever in return for my vote.

Therefore, any person who would like to take up this offer of mine must be scrupulously conspicuous in offering me no value for it at all; in fact, it might even be better if such persons were to cause me a loss of value somehow, for example by kicking me in the shins or making me buy them pints.

Takers in the comments, please.

Seriously? No, seriously?

Just cut out the middleman and let rich people sponsor a poor person. There would be less waste in the long run, jobs for council workers (the OKCupids of wealth patronage!), and a powerful social impact.

After all, why give your money to charity when you can give it to your own impecunious client?

I mean, it worked for the Romans.

So. This time last year, London was under a blanket of snow. That was weather, not climate change.

This time this year, London is positively balmy. I haven’t even busted out the winter coat. This is climate change, not weather.

What’s what, you climate change types?

I know that, y’know, climate change is all about melting ice caps and polar bears and stuff, not about what the temperature is in any given place in any given time.

But on the one hand, I’ve got this message that unseasonable cold is not indicative of global warming, because global “warming” can cause unseasonable cold due to cold meltwater effing up the Gulf Stream.

On the other hand, I’ve got this message that unseasonable warm is not indicative of climate change, because climate change doesn’t cause meltwater to eff up the Gulf Stream, due to some Pacific weather pattern…?

Look. Either global warming is effing the Gulf Stream and therefore causing massive freezes north of the Tropic of Cancer; or else global warming is heightening the Gulf Stream and causing crazy warm weather north of the Tropic of Cancer; I don’t care, just make up your minds for more than a year in advance.

And when you do, I’ll bust out the winter coat or else the flip-flops, and become a convert.

But until your weather/climate/Gulf Stream/meltwater/Pacific current makes consistent sense, I’ll continue to believe in “mainly a multi-decadal natural fluctuation.”

Mmkay?

From the Mail:

Some universities, such as London Metropolitan, have slashed more than 60 per cent of their courses, including philosophy, performing arts and history.

Much as I’m not in favour of direct state funding of university degrees, nor am I remotely in favour of the apparent belief, held by just about everyone in the western world, that the purpose of learning is to make one an economically viable unit.

‘Go to university so you can get a job and… pay taxes, god damn it!’

No, I’m sorry. That is not the purpose of knowledge, learning, or education, as far as I am concerned. It’s important to be ‘economically useful’ solely so that one can support oneself; whether this requires learning is a matter of circumstance.

It is particularly dreadful that the welfare state and the state funding of tertiary education, and the cost that involves to the taxpayer, has resulted in this pathetic narrative about education—learning how to think, process information, and make independent analyses—being reduced to the question of whether or not what you learn helps you get a job.

To the point where universities are axing degrees that accomplish precisely the goals a university degree should accomplish.

When the taxpayer doesn’t have to subsidise ‘economically non-viable units,’ one doesn’t have to be over-concerned with how people enlarge their brains and their understanding of humanity.

I would be interested to know what degree courses London Metropolitan University will be retaining. Presumably, given the jobs possessed by people I know, courses like ‘Working in the Public Sector’ and ‘How to Add No Value in Human Resources’?

But perhaps that’s uncharitable. I do know people doing productive work, who all seem to have degrees in, y’know, philosophy and history.

Or no degree at all—and have become complete humans all on their own, without the subsidy of the state, or the help of London Metropolitan ‘University.’

Jesus.

UPDATE: Okay, so I’m told that wasn’t the clearest post I’ve ever produced.

Here’s my deal.

Knowing various stuff and supporting oneself independently are separate things. State subsidy of knowing stuff, and state subsidy of those who can’t support themselves, have conflated these concepts.

You don’t always need to know some stuff in order to support yourself. Likewise, lots of people who do know some stuff can’t support themselves. (Cf. OccupyLSX.) The two do not need to be linked.

Axing history and philosophy degrees does not mean that university graduates will, therefore, be able to support themselves, even if they are paying £6k more for the privilege of studying. All it means is that a significant contingent of people will no longer know stuff to do with history or philosophy. Whether this assists in their economic viability is neither here nor there; what it does mean is that particular knowledge will be systematically lost.

Now, you can choose to assess the value of that knowledge economically, as everyone seems to be doing currently.

On the other hand, you can say, ‘Hey, people should be able to support themselves. Quite apart from that, at least some people should know some stuff about what it’s meant to be a human being up to this point. But being able to support oneself doesn’t mean one has to be completely focused on being able to support oneself.’

One of the greatest things about our society becoming ever wealthier is the growth of leisure (Cf. just about every blog post by Tim Worstall). Leisure is, essentially, the opportunity to think about what it means to be a human being. If we’ve reached the point where thinking about being a human is so devalued that we’re not even providing the opportunity to people willing to spend their money (i.e. leisure) on it, then we might as well all work ourselves into the grave right now.

Honestly, what good is having wealth and leisure time otherwise?

Disclaimer: I have two degrees in history. And yes, I work and pay taxes. The reason I got my job in the first place was, incidentally, due to blogging. Maybe universities should be offering that as a degree course.

I have Tim Worstall to thank for raising my blood pressure on this fine Sunday afternoon and distracting me from some work I’m supposed to be doing. His reaming of this article by Naomi Klein in The Nation is brief, but extensive enough to hint that she might be saying some stuff that I particularly hate.

There is a run-of-the-mill Left position, that revolves around general ideas of environment, equality, and government involvement that I can sort of tolerate, even if I don’t agree with it. And then there is the crap spouted by people like Naomi Klein, who seem to view themselves as the best thing since sliced Marx, and in that tradition of philosophising about a new world order. This group also includes Madeleine Bunting.

And if there’s one thing that really gets my goat, it’s assholes holding forth about overturning the current “narrative” and bringing about a completely new social and economic “paradigm.” Especially when it’s actually a really old one.

I’ll declare my interest and say this is partly because the current narrative isn’t so bad (for me), but there’s another facet, and that is the blind outrage I feel when someone talks about junking the collective effect of the individual, diffuse, organic behaviour of billions of people. You can’t get different results without changing the inputs, and the natural way to do this—making a case, hoping it’s reasonable, and watching it become a trend if it is—isn’t good enough for the Kleins and Buntings of this world. There will be no grass-roots, bottom-up behaviour change, even though this is how it has only and ever worked. No, instead we shall have planning. Lots and lots of planning.

And in the service of what, precisely? Why, a new paradigm that overturns capitalism and delivers an earthly paradise of low-carbon equality of wealth. The infuriating thing about this is reading how they propose to do it, and losing one’s temper about the fact that it makes no sense.

Let’s start with Klein’s thesis.

The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.

That would not be a “new civilisational paradigm” but a very old one: the one humans lived in for many thousands of years, the rhythms of their lives attuned acutely to the natural cycles of growth, rains, harvest, dormancy—or else growth, drought, famine, and death. Many people in the world still actually live this way, and not only does it suck, we in the first world acknowledge that it sucks because we call these people “poor” and try to help them not have to live attuned to the cycles of nature.

This is mainly because, while human intelligence might have its limits, inability to overcome the cycles of nature isn’t one of them.

Not that any of this really matters, because Klein doesn’t want to do this really, and nothing in her “planning” would achieve it, or is even designed to achieve it. Her six-point plan bears no resemblance to anything remotely “natural.”

It’s not even as sensible as my colleague’s ten-point plan for when he becomes dictator of India. That one starts like this:

1. Remove all restrictions on trade.
2. Legalise prostitution.
3. End all licensing laws.
4. Introduce the death penalty.
5. Put all corrupt people to death.
6. etc.

So let’s look at Klein’s plan. With the rhetorical crap stripped out, it goes like this.

1. Create a huge government deficit by building massive green infrastructure.

Yeah, okay. That’s just run-of-the-mill leftism, but we’ll come back to it.

2. Every community in the world to plan how it will stop using fossil fuels.

My favourite part of this is how collective lifestyle imposition is described as “participatory democracy.” I guess it doesn’t occur to Klein that people don’t require participatory democracy when they are free to make their own individual decisions. It’s only when some group is trying to force its shit on everyone else that the twin charade of “engagement” and “consultation” is invoked. Seriously, whenever you hear that you’re about to be consulted or engaged with, abandon all hope, because it means some decision about you has been made without you and you’re now about to be told what it is.

2a. This planning should focus on “collective priorities rather than corporate profitability.”

Somehow this is something to do with making sure those people whose current jobs are entwined with fossil fuels don’t end up left without a job.

This makes no sense. For one thing, there is nothing more capitalist than a job. A job is what you do to earn money (sometimes also known as capital), with which you buy the stuff you need to live. You can’t sweep away capitalism and keep jobs. It just doesn’t work. A job is not some kind of intrinsically good way of keeping oneself from growing bored with leisure. A job is work someone pays you to do. And jobs are not the same thing as work; this is why we don’t call hoovering and dusting “housejobs.”

Let’s also address the problem of “profitability.” You know, the one where “profit” is the positive difference between outgoings and incomings. You know, the one where that difference—that profit—is what the government takes a slice of (“tax”) to get its money to build lots of lovely infrastructure?

2b. Re-introduce labour-intensive agriculture in order to create jobs.

Labour-intensive agriculture is otherwise known as peasant farming, and peasant farming is not a job. It’s work. It’s the work one does not to have money with which to buy food, but to have food to eat. It’s back-breaking work that is harder than a job, less fun than a job, and less rewarding than a job. It is another old paradigm that we’ve actually spent some centuries now trying to get away from. We’re still trying to help third-world subsistence farmers get away from it. Returning to it is a shitty idea, and a really stupid plan for achieving a really stupid thing.

3. Rein in corporations’ ability to supply and burn fossil fuels.

That’s all well and good, but there’s nothing here about what happens to all of the other corporations where there’s no fuel. I work in a web software company. The other day, some builders over the road accidentally cut the power cable, and for two hours, the entire neighbourhood went dark. Our whole company was paralysed—no routers so no internet, no phones. Within ten minutes, the place was like something out of Boccaccio, with employees sitting in dark rooms telling stories about other power cuts they’d endured. Imagine that all over the world, and it’s only a matter of time before hundreds of millions of people start contemplating peasant farming as the only alternative to eating each other.

4. End non-local trade.

Wow, again, we’re back to the fucking Middle Ages. Thank you very much for coming to dinner, Ms Klein. Have a turnip. No, really, that’s all we’ve got. A turnip. We have to source our food locally, you see. Perhaps you would like a bit of the salted rat I’ve been saving up for our meat during the winter? What do you mean, that’s a protected species?

5. End “growth” in the first world.

Hey! You there! Yes, you with a good idea for streamlining this process! Stop it right now.

Either these people do not understand what growth is, or they don’t understand what humans are. Humans are problem-solving creatures. “Growth” is not using more resources to make more profit. “Growth” is solving problems. Often, it is solving the problem of “how do we do this thing with fewer resources?”

Klein obviously doesn’t understand this. To her, use of resources is to be minimised, except when the resource is human labour—use of that is to be maximised.

I mean, am I going crazy in the rare sunshine, or does anyone else see that we’re going backward here? The whole reason we use “stuff” is so that we don’t have to use people, because back when we had no “stuff,” we had things like 30-year lifespans from toiling in the fields, and slaves.

It’s like she’s saying we should use less stuff so that we can use more people, because it’s good for people to be used, because it means that they have work, and it’s good for people to have work, because it means that they’re not being underused.

It’s so recursive that she’s in danger of suggesting that jobs need humans in order to live.

6. Tax people and corporations.

We’re back to the whole “profitability” thing again. Now that we’ve spent some time using participatory democracy to make sure nobody cares about profit, and some more time ensuring that we stop using resources to make things, and still more time ensuring that no one makes money from using or supplying fossil fuels—where is the money, precisely, that the government’s going to take in tax? When everywhere is a co-op or a peasant farm, producing only what people need locally, where is the excess capacity that the government can take in tax?

This is the whole problem with this stupid obsession with the evils of profit. Profit is what the government taxes. Therefore, no profit, no tax. No tax, no government infrastructure projects or green subsidies or anything else the government is supposed to pay for because the private sector won’t do it because there’s no profit in it.

Jesus.

Klein sums up:

There is no joy in being right about something so terrifying. But for progressives, there is responsibility in it, because it means that our ideas—informed by indigenous teachings as well as by the failures of industrial state socialism—are more important than ever. It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity’s best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.

Yeah, okay. There’s nothing in your “plan” that didn’t come straight out of the playbook of 1381, only in 1381, the peasants were revolting because it was such a shitty fucking plan and they didn’t like living under it.

More to the point, it makes no sense. The whole point of this “new paradigm” is to stop climate change and, as an added bonus, improve equality and “participatory democracy.”

But go back to the first premise—climate change should be stopped—and take a moment to ask again why that is so. Climate change is bad because it will destroy our way of life. It will kill a bunch of people outright in floods and storms. It will reduce the land area we have to live on, and reduce how much food we can grow on it. It will make many of the natural resources we depend on unavailable. It will make miserable, cramped subsistence farmers of us all.

And the way we’re supposed to avert this disaster is… to do it to ourselves first? What a pile of complete nonsense.

As Klein herself admits, the dangers of climate change are being used as a pretext to re-order the entirety of human life according to the “progressive” plan of using up excess wealth in order to maximise human work.

That is the most backward, fucked-up, and human-hating plan ever dreamed up. Anyone who backs it has a perception of life on earth so diseased and warped that they’re barely recognisable as human beings themselves.

Look at the way every person in this photograph is grinning, like film stars being mobbed by paparazzi on the red carpet, about subverting the will of the German people. If there is a hell, surely each of these belongs there.

BBC News: Germany approves EU bailout fund, all participants smile at subversion of democracy.

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, p. 269:

If I could increase gradually the rate of VAT to 19 or even 20 per cent, I could scrap the National Insurance increase. I could compensate low earners with a package of measures to negate the impact of the VAT increase. On top of that, I could surprise people by cutting both the basic rate of income tax and corporation tax in order to boost growth. I tried this out with Gordon, but was met with an emphatic no. I talked to both Peter and Ed Balls, trying to convince them that we needed something big if we were to come out of this with any momentum at all. While Peter this time had an open mind, Gordon and Ed remained implacably opposed to the VAT increase. There was nothing more I could do, so we stuck with the tax measures previously announced.

Two years later, and thanks to Brown and Balls, not only do we still have their increased NI and income taxes, we also have 20% VAT.

Thanks, guys. Thanks a fucking bunch.

Archbishop Cranmer has written a lot recently about the Dorries/Field amendment, which he describes thus:

…her modest proposal is that women should be offered independent counselling to give them a breathing space before proceeding with termination.

Ostensibly, the rationale behind giving women this choice is because abortion clinics, which provide counselling, are not independent. Cranmer even imputes that they have financial interest in counselling women to have abortions, even though they are not-for-profit institutions, because the government pays them per abortion carried out. Ergo, more abortions means more money for the clinics to…provide more abortions, I suppose.

He has also written disparagingly of Louise Mensch, who has proposed her own amendment to the amendment, to the effect that:

Mrs Mensch believes not only that women must be protected from the manifestly conflicted counselling services of BPAS and Marie Stopes International; they must also be shielded from faith groups who seek to spread their own ‘ideology’.

Faith-based pregnancy counselling does not operate under a financial conflict of interest, and is therefore independent. Cranmer would not appear to recognise that conflicts of interest need not be financial.

From what I can tell (though His Grace is free to correct me on this), the reason this ‘offering of choice’ has anything to do with legislation—when of course ‘choices’ do not need to be legislated for—is that public money is involved. The Dorries/Field amendment would prohibit abortion clinics from providing counselling to pregnant women and instead use public funds to pay for these women to have ‘independent’ counselling, with ‘independent’ bodies being defined as ‘anyone who doesn’t get paid to carry out abortions.’

This would include faith groups, presumably, because they don’t get paid to carry out abortions. Never mind that faith groups have an interest in pushing women not to have abortions. And never mind that paying faith groups to advise against abortion will, naturally, supply them with a financial conflict of interest, as they will now be given money by the government to continue urging pregnant women not to have abortions.

So here is my question for Archbishop Cranmer.

Why should government pass legislation to give taxpayers’ money to faith groups to supply pro-life arguments when pregnant women can, even now, get that same advice for free from any priest, vicar, imam, rabbi, street-corner preacher, church worker, or religious internet blogger—should they wish for that advice?

Why is Louise Mensch wrong to say that faith-based counselling is no more neutral than that provided by abortion clinics, and to object to funding counselling that is equally conflicted, but for different reasons?

Why should taxpayers’ money, if it is going to be spent in this endeavour at all, not be spent providing truly independent counselling by people and organisations that have no interest in either payment-per-abortion or saving souls?

Any why, if the Dorries/Field amendment is all about giving choice, rather than restricting it, is it continually justified in the newspapers and on your blog by the claim that it will reduce the number of abortions by 60,000? Where is the study, the proof, the methodology to show, as this number suggests, that 60,000 women or so are connived into having abortions they don’t really want because they are not availing themselves of government-subsidised advice they could nevertheless get for free?

Because that justification, it seems to me, has nothing to do with women’s welfare, but everything to do with the amendment’s apparent real objective, which is to stop women having so many abortions. It may not be obviously coercive in this regard, but it is nevertheless clear from the touting of this figure that it has nothing whatsoever to do with women’s welfare, and everything to do with using taxpayer cash to give more influence over pregnant women to pro-life, anti-abortion groups.

Austerity

The Free Dictionary: n. Reduced availability of goods, especially luxuries.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Reduction in the rate of growth of government spending that can lead to, among other things, the requirement for employees of government to contribute more to their pension funds.

Apathy

The Free Dictionary: n. Absence of interest in or enthusiasm for things generally considered interesting or moving.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Absence of interest in or enthusiasm for politics, attributable only to either philosophical defects in the subject or the use of a first-past-the-post system of voting within the subject’s country of residence.

Social justice

The Free Dictionary: ?

The Progressive Dictionary: n. The application of methods and policies that lead to the elimination of consumption, inequality, poverty, and other human problems, reputedly through employment in manufacturing.

Employment

The Free Dictionary: n. The act of exchanging labour in return for compensation.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. An elusive and undefined activity created by government which, when extended universally to the population, reduces inequality and poverty, but may contribute to consumption.

Revenue

The Free Dictionary: n. The money invoiced by a business enterprise in exchange for providing goods or services; the money paid to an investor from the profits of a business enterprise.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Tax.

Tax

The Free Dictionary: n. A compulsory fee levied by a government.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. Revenue; the money paid to the government by its residents in exchange for the promise of a civilised society.

Manufacturing

The Free Dictionary: n. An industry in which mechanical power and machinery are employed.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. One of the few types of honest labour, the increase of which is the solution to all economic woe, involving a highly unionised workforce carrying out manual toil in the production of physical goods intended for consumption.

Inequality

The Free Dictionary: n. Social or economic disparity.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. The existence of wealthy individuals; the cause of every human problem.

In my two-and-a-half years’ worth of blogging, I have found myself forced to consider the writings, sayings, and policy papers of those whose politics are opposite, and antithetical, to my own. I delved into the pronouncements of the left and, in so doing, discovered that it has its own rhetorical world. But not only that: I discovered that, in large part, the left’s rhetorical world is everyone’s. Its pseudologisms and weasel words—its perniciously equivocal vocabulary and taxonomy—infect public life and the body politic. In the rhetorical world given us by the left, a thing is not a thing: every term has a second meaning, a connotation, an interpretation. Words bear more loads for the left than structural steel.

Not to say this practice isn’t also prevalent on the right, or indeed anywhere else. In-groups always have their own meta-language. But the left have made their meta-language the language everyone has to speak.

I’d like to free these words from their role as beasts of burden.

And so I present to you a new series of posts which I will call the Progressive Dictionary. Words, and the load the left makes them carry. I’ve got a big long list to be starting with, but feel free to suggest your own.

And for your delectation, I’m going to begin with my two favourites.

Consumption

The Free Dictionary: n. The using up of goods and services by consumer purchasing or in the production of other goods.

The Progressive Dictionary: n. The unnecessary and environmentally damaging using up of the earth’s scarce resources in the morally repugnant pursuit of conspicuous social status conferred by inequality.

Poverty

The Free Dictionary: n. Lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts.

The Progressive Dictionary n. The unjust inability to engage in consumption (see above).

Hey everybody.

Even if you were inclined to vote for me, DON’T. For I see via Dick Puddlecote, this:

3. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents and based on UK politics are eligible. However, this does not mean blogs hosted outside the UK, or blogs with contributors who don’t live in the UK aren’t eligible.

I am not a UK resident. So don’t vote for me, or your ballot might be disqualified. Okay?

Fuck me, even fucking bullshit popularity polls appear to be run by the fascist anti-foreigner Home Office.

Via @Athena_PR, this:

Nadine Dorries: We should shut down social media networking sites during a public disturbance

I don’t think I’ve written much about Nadine Dorries, but I’ve read the on-going rhetoric wars over her between Dizzy and Tim Ireland, and I know of the bogus ‘hand of God’ scandal. But I was willing to give her—and her party—the benefit of the doubt in some respects until I read this blog post—this blog post—condemning the very web-based social communication that the post itself embodies.

Let us consider: why would Nadine Dorries want to write a blog post for ConservativeHome? First, because it has a large audience to whom she can suck up. Second, because writing a blog post that reaches a large audience is easier than the hard slog of doorstepping, campaigning on the ground, and connecting in person with individuals. Third, because writing a blog post is a crap-ton easier than going on the media rounds, being interviewed by journalists who jealously (if inconsistently) guard speech privileges and who love nothing better than wrong-footing a politician.

So we’ve already identified a host of practical (if cynical) reasons why social media is good for Nadine Dorries.

But curiously, it is this same social media (ooooh, watch out) whose restriction she advocates via the medium of social media.

She says:

During 7/7, mobile networks were instantly closed down.

The justification for this, as I recall correctly, was to stop the overloading of networks, which would interfere with emergency response systems. Leaving aside whether or not that makes sense, what Nadine actually says is that:

The precedent to prevent those who present a threat to the safety of civilians from communicating with each other is already set, even though possibly not officially acknowledged by the intelligence services.

So, she acknowledges that the justification given at the time was a lie, and that the actual purpose was to stop ‘civilians from communicating with each other.’

What did it stop? More terrorist attacks, that had been planned and coordinated in advance by people meeting in person? Maybe. More likely, it stopped ‘civilians’ from contacting their loved ones to make sure they were safe, to find out where they were, to help each other, to advise each other, to mourn together, to make plans to meet up and feel the comfort of one another’s company. I’m not at all convinced that interrupting communications networks in the aftermath of disaster is a good response; nor do I believe that causing definite worry and pain to the innocent is negligible when compared to the possibility that further terrorists might be inconvenienced.

Presumably, however, Dorries does: deal with it, you civilians, it’s for your own good.

She carries on:

To compare the intention of a democratically elected, heavily scrutinised Government, to restrict social media use during a public disorder in this country, with the autocratic, secretive regimes of others such as Iran and China, is simply not a sustainable argument.

It is a sustainable argument, actually, when one isn’t tilting at straw men. The intention behind the shutting down of a speech channel by government, and the nature of that government, are immaterial. Whatever the intention or the government, the outcome is the same: a speech channel is shut down. Dorries should know, due to her Christian advocacy, that Christ is not concerned with the roots, but with the fruits. And as we all know, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I for one do not give a stuff about the government’s intentions, or its democratic legitimacy. What I am concerned with are the outcomes of its policies. It is possible for an autocrat to lead a blissful society. And it is possible for a democrat to preside over a dystopian one.

But hark! To Dorries, this sort of statement is not hypocrisy, for as she says of another suspiciously grassy figurine:

A peaceful demonstration, voicing a desire for freedom of speech, or free and fair elections in other countries cannot be compared to mass criminality or violent social disorder, which is what we saw take place here during the riots.

Allow me to deconstruct this for you in simple symbolic logic, if I can, for it makes little sense, but I’ll give it a go.

Oppressive regimes = bad.
Violent disorder = bad.
Social media = ?

Where are social media in this argument? Nowhere. What Dorries is saying is that condemning oppressive regimes whilst condemning disorder is not hypocrisy. Well, duh. In other news, comfort is good and pain is unpleasant, and the pope shits in the woods. What has this got to do with anything?

I think I would like Dorries better if she was prepared to talk the talk and walk the walk. If one is going to address the criticism that shutting down social media makes the British government no better than China or Iran, one should really go all out and just admit something along the lines of, ‘You know what? China and Iran have their problems, but this is one issue they have bang to rights. Having one or two things in common with them doesn’t make us fascists, too. After all, Hitler liked dogs and watercolours.’

She’d still be wrong, but at least she wouldn’t be a mealy-mouthed, lying, self-deluding, patronising hypocrite.

And there’s still more to come:

The argument put forward this morning by Andrew, on the Today programme, that a Twitter message may have saved a person in a burning house is false and unprovable. It just didn’t happen. What saved a person in a burning house was screaming out of a window.

Does anyone really think that an individual when sat in the middle of a burning building, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter and post a message which says ‘help, help’?

Well, maybe. I can’t speak for this Andrew chap. He strikes me as something of a dimwit. Of course nobody tweets ‘Help, help.’ But maybe what they tweet is, ‘Hey you guys, is there any rioting near Brixton station? I usually go home past it.’

And maybe what they get is, ‘Yes, there is: find a different way home or you might get hurt.’ So there you go: social media can prevent harm as easily as it can contribute to it.

Conversely, rather than saving lives, the overwhelming use of social media during the riots was seriously harmful. It disseminated information so quickly that it undoubtedly helped to spread the riots across a wider area. This resulted in the tragic loss of life in Birmingham and chaotic disruption in other major cities.

This is a total exaggeration. How many people were involved in the riots, vs how many uninvolved people were helping each other through social media channels? Given the numbers rioting were, you know, small in the grand scheme of the online population, I have to call bullshit on this one.

Especially when one considers the fact that, in the grand scheme of riots, this was pretty paltry. It sucks that people died, and that others’ livelihoods and homes were destroyed. But come on, they had way bigger riots than this in 1381 when barely anybody could write, let alone use Twitter. Social media didn’t facilitate widespread, destructive social upheaval. It partially facilitated shitty little riots, characterised mostly by looting, undertaken largely by people with criminal backgrounds.

You know what else social media facilitates? Widespread communication of condemnation of itself, by hypocritical assholes like Nadine Dorries. The tool that allows rioters to reach a wide audience of fellow rioters is the same tool that allows fascist scum like Nadine Dorries to reach a wide audience of fellow fascist scum. Funny, that. I guess social media can be used for good and evil. But just because Dorries is polluting the series of tubes with her authoritarian wickedness doesn’t mean I think the series of tubes should be switched off.

In proposing to close down social media networking sites when threatening public disorder starts to break out, this Government is acting responsibly in using such a measure as an exercise in damage limitation.

It’s also acting to disrupt a much wider-ranging exercise in damage prevention. Everything has a cost.

We must also remember that Twitter and Facebook were used to spread false rumours, to disrupt vital life saving services such as the Fire and Ambulance services…

Ooh, yet again, the justification that the emergency services need these networks to be clear in order to do their life-saving jobs. As Dorries has already admitted the falseness of that justification with respect to the closing of mobile networks on 7/7, it’s not a particularly effective piece of rhetoric here, but let’s return to something, shall we?

Does anyone really think that an individual when sat in the middle of a burning building, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter and post a message which says ‘help, help’?

Does anyone really think that emergency services personnel when sat in the middle of a riot zone, would calmly remove a mobile phone from a jacket pocket, select Twitter or Facebook, and check for a message which says ‘help, help’?

Finally:

To the Libertarians who are constantly arguing against the use of CCTV and the very temporary shutting down of social media when necessary, you have to ask yourself this. Is your political principle really more important that the families who lost sons, the shopkeepers who lost their business and the children who have been burnt out of their homes?

My answer: yes.

Because the failure to prevent rioting negatively affected a few thousands, while the failure to protect my principle negatively affects everyone on this planet. Don’t make Stalin’s mistake in thinking that a few thousand horrors is a tragedy, but a few billion is merely a statistic.

I think what bothers me the most here is not that Dorries believes these things, for I’m sure she’s not alone and I know a lot of people sympathise with her views. What really gets my goat is that she is a representative of the Government of this nation; and her well-paid advisors, her party’s well-paid advisors, and the Government’s well-paid advisors appear to have no objection to her advocacy, on a very popular and highly-read social media forum, of the shutting down of social media in technology-based, 21st-century Britain, all in the name of the possible prevention of criminal behaviour that is barely on a par with the kind of social disorder and criminal behaviour that persisted in eras when social media wasn’t even a gleam in your mother’s eye.

I can only assume, from this and from Cameron’s recent waffle, that the Conservative party endorses this kind of bullshit, and that its supporters and voters endorse it as well. And if this is what passes for democratically elected, heavily scrutinised, first-world, free-world governance, then I fear deeply for democracy, elections, scrutiny, and the civilised world.

Dorries notwithstanding, I’m extremely unlikely to support the Conservative party ever, but you entryists out there (and I know there are fuck-tons of you, because you’ve tried your entryism on me), take note: if you don’t stand up and condemn what Dorries and Cameron are saying, you will earn for yourselves many enemies. And if you, by your silence, permit Dorries, Cameron, and their ilk to follow through on this ragged rhetoric with actual policies, you will earn for yourselves so much implacable hatred that you will consider rock bands claiming they will dance when you die to be an expression of positive affection, and moan about how easy Thatcher had it.

What do you mean, he’s not Richard Petty?

I would totally vote for Richard Petty. I think this nominative confusion, perfectly understandable in all American Southerners, is going to be the cause of a lot of awkwardness between now and November 2012…

From the Telegraph via Tim Worstall:

Jordan Blackshaw, 20, and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan, 22, were jailed for four years each for inciting the disorder on Facebook despite both being of previous good character.

From the same Telegraph article:

A fourth defendant, Linda Boyd, 31, who has 62 previous convictions, was given a 10 month jail term suspended for two years after she was caught trying to drag away a £500 haul of alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco.

I’m not sure I need to make this comment, but: what kind of justice is this when two people of previous good character receive lengthy custodial sentences for making remarks on Facebook, but a third person who has a long, long history of criminal behaviour is given a suspended sentence for being caught with stolen goods?

I understand that these were different courts with different judges in different regional jurisdictions, but there still seems to be a massive disparity in the interpretation of sentencing guidelines here.

It is outrageous that remarks on Facebook merit a longer, harsher jail sentence than some rapes and murders, let alone theft and looting.

But what is really outrageous is that making remarks on Facebook can be criminalised at all. Perhaps Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan can band together with Paul Chambers and his supporters to help stamp out this fascist British tendency toward criminalisation of speech.

Even though I am, as this blog demonstrates, overtly political, one thing I have always tried to keep away from, as a general rule, is imputing political messages to music that isn’t overtly political. For one thing, it’s pretty difficult to know what was in the lyricist’s mind at the time of inspiration, and for another, openly attaching political significance to art can be extraordinarily divisive, whether it’s the audience or the artist doing it. (Let’s just say I lost some respect for J K Rowling when I discovered she’d given £1m to the Labour Party.) People are protective of their art as they are of their politics; to find that a revered artist has repellant views sometimes feels like betrayal.

One of our goals in creating Heaven Is Whenever (now, sadly, defunct) was to create a kind of haven for all of these political people we were connected to where they could engage with each other about something they could love together. Bringing politics into Heaven Is Whenever was verboten.

I was reminded of this today when I happened upon, through pathways measureless to man, this article at the National Review called, cringeingly, ‘Rockin’ the Right.’ What, the author asks, are the 50 best conservative rock songs? And then he proceeds to appropriate a bunch of songs for the American right wing, most of which are far from overtly political.

Now, if we’re talking about ‘Bloody Sunday’ or ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ as being political, that’s one thing.

But in this case, we’re talking about the following:

‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ by the Beach Boys—Pro-marriage, yay, conservative! This song is a conservative rock anthem? What?

‘Heroes’ by David Bowie—East Berlin is bad, yay, conservative! Yeah, okay, if you ignore the fact that Bowie was dressing up like a Nazi during this era and going on stage in the persona of a fascist. Oh, wait…

‘Brick’ by Ben Folds Five—Anti-abortion, yay, conservative! I don’t think this dude has listened to the rest of the words to this song. Incidentally, I ran into Ben Folds once or twice while I was at university. Given this place is often referred to as ‘the People’s Republic of Carrboro,’ I can’t say I feel his lyrics were all that conservative in their intent.

‘The Battle of Evermore’ by Led ZeppelinWhat? The basis for this judgment appears to be, solely, the line ‘The tyrant’s face is red.’ Therefore Robert Plant was against communism. Or something. Incidentally, I have actually met Robert Plant, who in his own words ‘doesn’t do it for the money.’

‘Janie’s Got a Gun’ by Aerosmith—Pro-guns, yay, conservative! I may be wrong, but isn’t this song about a girl who shoots her abusive father? Possibly there is more critique here of traditional family values?

‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ by Iron Maiden—Old poets, yay, conservative! Seriously, Coleridge was an opium addict. I’m pretty sure that songs based on poems based on opium dreams don’t have a place in the conservative heuristic.

It’s a shame he’s picked these as some of the top 50 conservative rock songs, because they really detract from the first four or so in the list, which I would say probably have some vaguely conservative message.

Yes, even ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ though certainly this does not begin to resemble what passes for conservatism in America. True story: I once had a student who wrote a phat term paper about this song. When I was teaching history in the US, I used to assign term papers on subjects of historical interest. Because I am not a fascist, I didn’t choose the topics for them.

(Why? Because I had a history teacher who did that to me when I was in school. He had these file cards with topics written on them, and he put them all face down on a table, swished them around, and made us pick one blind. Imagine my dismay when I turned over the card: ‘Pinochet? What the fuck is that?’ And this was in 1997 or so, when there was no internet to speak of and I couldn’t find a damn thing in the family set of World Book Encyclopedias from 1977. I had to trek all the way to the state fucking library and read newspapers on microfilm. Contrast this with my best friend, who picked ‘The Tudors.’ This deep injustice still haunts me.)

This one kid, he was not the brightest, but he loved music: proper music as well, not the Britney Spears and whatever that his classmates were listening to. He came to my office hours after I gave out the assignment, wanting to know what on earth he should do his paper on, because he didn’t really ‘get’ history. After some discussion, it came out that he was really into the Who, and into this one song.

‘Write about something to do with that,’ I suggested lamely.

Two months later, he handed in this masterpiece, all about the post-war consensus in Britain, the principle of democratic choice, and the long decline of Empire—as an exegesis of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ To this day, it is one of the two best pieces of work I have ever seen from a student.

(The other was a short video about the career of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. There is an unsubstantiated theory that Sulla disguised himself as a German to spy on the invading tribes in 104-103 BC. To depict this, the student playing Sulla turned his back to the camera for a moment, and turned around again wearing a Hitler moustache. This was his interpretation of ‘disguising oneself as a German.’ Hilarious.)

So yeah, I can seem some politics in some of these songs, sometimes even conservative politics.

Ultimately, however, I deplore this article and this idea. Much of the reason music is evocative is because each of us, as individual listeners, can read into it that which is meaningful to us. Appropriating music for political purposes (see also: Labour Party Conference, ‘Sit Down’) robs us of that meaning. When I listen to ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ I don’t want to think of the personal judgments of John J Miller at the National Review.

I want to think of that kid I taught who loved listening to the Who.

Hands up all who agree with me that Akismet is the best comment-spam trapper ever. I wouldn’t even have pegged this as spam without interrogating the email address:

What a load of liberal claptrap! The reason economy has problems is because of the liberal elite Clinton machine turning an open, freedom loving market economy into a communist/socialist give away society that panders to the lay about, self-indulgent mongrols of lower humanity. I say get a job you bums! And leave the complexities of high finance to your superiors.

I guess I fail the Turing test.

Normally I have lot of time for Cranmer, and it’s not that I disagree with the thrusts of this post generally, but this sentence flabbered my gast:

If the sanctity of the uterus is to be guarded and preserved, the profanity of the EUterus must be abated and bound. The uterus brings forth life; the EUterus is the harbinger of death.

The sanctity of the uterus?

The uterus is an incubator for humans. In its capacity as bringer-forth of life, it is a muscular organ which, in tandem with the vagina, pushes something alive through a very tiny space and into the exterior world.

It is no more sacred than my colon, which also pushes forth something alive through a very tiny space and into the exterior world.

I’m quite happy to accept the argument that a human being is categorically different from poop, but at no point do I accept that this theorem confers any kind of sanctity on my incubation organ. Especially when that organ more frequently brings forth biological waste than human beings.

The uterus doesn’t even provide the biological matter that becomes a human; that would be the ovary and the testicle, which supply the egg and the sperm. It’s not even the uterus where sperm and egg join to create the zygote: that would be the fallopian tube.

As long as people continue in this way to fly in the face of both sense and biological fact, the abortion debate will never reach any meaningful decision. And as long as people persist in sanctifying a single female reproductive organ above and beyond the sanctity of full female self-ownership, women will never achieve true liberty in this world, let alone before God, for whom these people purport to speak.

Women have, since the Neolithic era, been accorded propertarian status by men because they happen to be the sex who incubate future offspring, despite the fact that the uterus is simply the place where the offspring grows, while the offspring itself is generated by the equal participation of both sexes. The offspring, while it grows in the uterus, is without question parasitic: it is a separate living thing that leeches nutrients from its host. Bringing it forth from the uterus is statistically the most dangerous thing most women will ever do. Women must then sustain this life by breast-feeding, further depleting the body’s resources. The evolutionary reward for this risk and ruination of one’s body is the propagation of a 50% share of one’s genetic material for, hopefully, at least a single generation.

Men, of course, are uniquely qualified to comment on the sanctity of the uterus, since their part in the bringing forth of that most sacred of human life is to shoot a broad fusillade of genetic ammunition into a hostile environment and hope some of it hits the bullseye. They are then free to go about their usual business, unbothered by parasitical leeching, physical mutilation, or the necessity of contributing further to the sustenance of that life through the provision of yet further nutrients. A not insignificant proportion of the time, they don’t even contribute to the offspring through their labour or material resources.

So by all means, let us have men debating the ownership of others’ internal organs by resorting to spurious arguments about sanctity. I’m sure that will guarantee a sensible resolution to the question of abortion. Women will surely realise that the imputed holiness of their uteri means they have no right to seek the termination of physically ruinous processes, let alone achieve unquestioned ownership of their uteri in the same way they own their colons or spleens, which don’t happen to incubate humans.

Good grief.

If men with moral and religious conscience are so determined to prevent abortion, let them turn their engineering genius (which, we are assured, is much more prevalent in men than in women) to perfecting the artificial uterus. It won’t be as sacred as a real one, obviously, but it would be a lot more effective at stopping abortions than using legislation to declare state ownership of female body parts.

Guest post by Trixy

We’re still fighting in Libya, still racking up the costs, still insisting we’re doing it to protect civilians and not for regime change. No, definitely not regime change, because that’s what Tony Blair did, the war monger, and this coalition is nothing like him, right?

Well, one thing’s for sure, and that’s that neither of them have or had a legal mandate from the United Nations Security Council to invade another country. Blair and his team may insist that they did, but for those of us who can, and who chose to, read the documents from the Security Council at that time, we know he was pulling a fast one. The US Ambassador John Negroponte insisted that UNSCRs 687 and 1441 were sufficient for war, and yet the Council were told by others that the latter was ‘not a smoking gun,’ and another resolution would be required before military action could legally occur.

UNSCR 1973 was for the protection of civilians and to maintain peace and security in the region. The latter is the reason that force can be used, under Chapter VII articles in the UN Charter. So is the bombing and killing of Gaddafi necessary to achieve this, without capture and a trial? Airstrikes destroy in a way that a crack team of soldiers performing a raid don’t. Sophisticated missiles can target but not so well as an SA80 MkII or an M16. So will Gaddafi find himself the victim of yet another airstrike in the name of supporting a group of his opponents whom we know nothing about, with whom senior figures in the Ministry of Defence are nervous of being involved? Will Gaddafi’s final moments be as a non-speaking extra in Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘The Naughty Dictator’ as his body is dumped into Davy Jones’ locker?

The details of what is going on and what will happen are being discussed in COBRA and the bowels of the MoD.

And what we’re hearing about now is Syria.

Hague has ruled out military action, yet the UK and France last week presented a draft UN resolution condemning Syria’s suppression of protests. China and Russia fear, understandably given recent history, that this is the first step towards yet more international intervention by the men in Disruptive Pattern Material. And certainly the calls for the end to violence must ring hollow in the ears of not only the Syrians, who see another group of civilians appearing worthy of ‘protection,’ but also those relatives of the victims of the Srebrenica massacre who had heard such platitudes before.

For whilst Mladic faces trial for genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity after 16 years of evading discovery, we are reminded of what peacekeeping forces not only allowed, but were forced to allow to happen. And we should remind ourselves of why the murder of 8000 Muslim men and boys occurred in this ‘safe area.’

The answer comes down to our rules of engagement, which did not permit the use of weapons to protect civilians. And Mladic and his men knew that, and thus made a mockery of any ‘peacekeeping’ which UN forces were supposed to be undertaking.

So what I am expecting from William Hague, if he does go back on his promise of no military intervention (something few would be surprised about if he did, I suspect), is fewer words and more action. It’s a tough call for the international community not to look like hypocrites, and if we know one thing about politicians, it’s that they value their reputations/egos very highly.

What we need, if we are going to shoulder the cost of more troop deployments and continue to view ourselves as being in the company of World Policemen, is more permissive rules of engagement. Otherwise Hague, Cameron and their successors are simply offering false hopes and empty posturing to a scared population. And we are wasting our money.

Of course, given MoD cuts, farcical procurement policy, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan, whether we should be getting involved in Syria is a question for another day. But another day soon.

From the Mail, I can confirm that this statement:

It is understood a neighbour or member of staff at the apartment block called police after the woman tearfully asked for help just after 1am

Is true. The call to the police was made not by the woman in question, but by the building concierge, who saw the state she was in. This can be confirmed with video evidence which apparently exists.

Ann Coulter is probably one of the most hated political figures in the United States, just behind George Bush and just ahead of Rush Limbaugh. In her ideology she exudes what the Republican Party probably ought to be if it ever wants to be credible again, and is a bone fide conservative, and in her contempt for left-wingers she is inflammatory and scathing. She is therefore loathed by left and right.

I love reading her stuff. So do some surprising other people—’the right-wing Judy Garland‘ is not an accidental handle.

I love her even though she sometimes takes a shot at libertarians, as in her most recent column. And even though I love her, I’ve gotta fisk her.

She takes issue with Ron Paul for advocating that the government ‘get out of’ marriage but carry on with providing health and social care benefits for ‘children and the elderly’ because so many of them are currently ‘dependent on the government.’

In one sense I agree with her; I think Ron Paul is being a bit weird here in the context she points out. Marriage, says Coulter, is a contract on which many, many legal attributes depend. Adoption, child custody, health insurance, inheritance, medical proxy, etc etc. Fair enough.

On the other hand, she’s missing the point and tilting at a massive straw man. I can’t speak for Ron Paul, but I do know a good bit about what libertarians think, and that tends to go something like this:

Contracts, and the ability to enforce them, are a basic pillar of civilised society. In the absence of Rothbardian private justice, one of the legitimate functions of government is to arbitrate and enforce contracts. Marriage, whilst for many people religious in nature, is just a particular type of contract in the eyes of the state. It carries implicit agreements about child custody, insurance, inheritance, and so forth. There is nothing special about marriage that should make it any different to any other type of contract—in the eyes of the state.

Except that in the US, for some reason, there is a strange moral attribute to the marriage contract. Homosexuals cannot enter into this contract with each other. They are specifically and specially debarred, in a way that is utterly exceptional in a country that usually only refuses to recognise your right to contract if you are (a) a child, or (b) non compos mentis. There is nothing, even, to stop a gay person from marrying someone of the opposite sex. It’s only each other they can’t contract with in this way.

The state is not there to enshrine the religious or moral connotations of marriage; in fact it doesn’t do so for straight people at all. Straight people can contract marriage in front of the state without ever getting close enough to sniff a priest or a rabbi or an imam.

So why should gay people be denied this same legal status? The US government isn’t trying to pretend that gay people are as incapable of consenting to agreements as children or the mad; it isn’t trying to pretend that straight marriages always and everywhere carry a moral or religious weight. It’s either (a) bowing stupidly to pressures from people who would use the government to impose a moral sanction, or more worryingly (b) sees nothing wrong with making arbitrary exceptions to normal jurisprudence when it suits.

The exceptional treatment homosexuals receive in the context of this one contract is not only hypocritical and wrong, it is dangerous to the body politic.

I would guess that this sort of thing is really what Ron Paul is getting at.

However, obviously in Coulter’s mind he is some kind of pansy jackass for saying, essentially, ‘It’s not the state’s place to disbar consenting mindful adults from entering voluntarily into contracts with one another, but I don’t think at this stage I would eliminate Medicare and Social Security at a stroke, because it’s some old folks’ only income and some children’s only health insurance. I’d sort of prefer a different approach.’

The idea that Ron Paul is ‘pretending to be [a] Randian purist, but [is] perfectly comfortable issuing politically expedient answers’ is ridiculous. So is that idea that all libertarians are like that. I know a lot of libertarians but not many who even pretend to be Randian purists.

Furthermore, this?

I make the case that liberals, and never conservatives, appeal to irrational mobs to attain power. There is, I now recall, one group of people who look like conservatives, but also appeal to the mob. They’re called “libertarians.”

Is hilarious. The mob? Please. There is no irrational mob in this universe that finds libertarians appealing. There isn’t even such a thing as a libertarian mob. When libertarians gather together, they don’t chant slogans together or march in unison. At the Rally Against Debt, as large a gathering of libertarians as I personally have witnessed, someone tried to start the slogan-chanting thing. About 3 people joined in for a round, then got bored. The speakers, far from being cheered like messiahs, received polite applause. The closest thing to a mob was the three ‘anarchists’ (left-wingers) chanting in the pen, where the police had put them in case a fight started. They needn’t have worried. Libertarians don’t fight with left-wingers, they fight with each other. It’s the only ‘mob’ you’ll ever see where the crowd hears a rousing speech and says to one another, ‘You know, I’m not sure I agree with him. He misses Friedman’s point about the fact that…’ and then argues all the way to the pub, where they’d all much rather be anyway.

As much as I like Ann Coulter, she doesn’t seem to understand the libertarian perspective at all. And it’s a shame, not because I think she should agree, but because I think if she could be as accurately nasty about us as she is about left-wingers, her occasional potshots would be a lot more entertaining.

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