All posts by John B

The importance of framing

In the lead-up to the 2010 UK general election, many civil libertarians of my acquaintance (not solely Screaming Loony Privatise The Army Libertarians, but people of all economic stripes who believe that broadly, trials are a good thing and torture is a bad thing) were suggesting that for all a putative Tory government’s likely failings, at least it would be better than Labour at upholding civil liberties.

Backbench hanger-and-flogger David Davis’s ridiculous stunt over ID cards was the declaration of intent that this particular mob saw, although one might have thought that the ongoing chorus of ‘Abolish The Human Rights Act’ from the Tory backbenches was a more accurate signal of things to come.

Which brings us to today. In one day, the Tories have pledged to impose de facto ID cards by requiring certified ID for almost all aspects of daily life, and impose draconian restrictions on people who’ve never been convicted of a crime on the say-so of the police.

Even civil libertarians surely can’t have expected the Tories to be better on abortion than Labour (which, curiously, didn’t seem to matter quite so much to this largely male grouping when making decisions before the election. Mysterious). Even so, the sight of government ministers denouncing the Director of Public Prosecutions for upholding the existing law on abortion and allowing a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy, whilst floating a change in the law that would restrict this right, is even worse than might reasonably have been expected.

In terms of policy, much of this reflects the fact that the party in government is always the party permanently having its ears bent by authoritarian bureaucrats and cops. But it also reflects the fact that the Tories aren’t and never were the free-trade, classical-liberal party that Labour-hating libertarians imagine them to be (that was the Whigs; Tories were always authoritarian reactionaries). Basically, civil liberties fans who cheered the Tories, you were stupid last time; don’t be so stupid next time.

The really impressive thing, though, is the framing, which goes even beyond Mr Blair’s skills. For a government that frequently seems to teeter on the edge of losing control, the way in which all three of these horrific policies have been phrased is sheer PR gold. Compulsory ID For All has been expressed as “OMG stop illegal migrants from taking your jobs!!!”; Minority Report has been expressed as “OMG stop Jimmy Savile and save the childrens!!!”; and Bollocks To Abortion Rights has been expressed as “OMG something something China!!!”. Superbly designed to pull at the heartstrings of the average total fucking idiot. Hopefully, still not quite enough to avoid losing the next election…

Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail has glittering coverage of all three.

To the Daily Mail, Genghis Khan was a fellow-traveller

The simple fact of the matter is that capitalist democracy, for all its crippling limitations, has been immeasurably less oppressive and a lot more democratic than any communist regime, whatever the latter’s achievements in economic, social and other fields.

notorious communist Ralph Miliband.

Hat tip to @durrant_james on the Twitters.

How To Calibrate A Booze Up So You’re Halfway Likely To Die

So Dan Nolan was wondering how much beer it would take to kill you.

It turns out the answer (LD50) is 42.5 cans in an hour, or 61 cans in a 24-hour day for a normal drinker, or 96.5 cans in a 24-hour day for a heavy drinker who hasn’t yet developed serious liver damage.

But don’t take my word for it, the model is here for your edification: Too Much Beer Will Kill You Just As Sure As None At All.xlsx

Bands of distinctions

I an a civilised gentleman with a fine reputation; my father has a reputation as a smart bastard who stirs up shit. He also introduced me to the delightful and amazing Kirstie MacColl and by proxy, Johnny Marr.

I feel the need to stick up my dad’s Trayvon commentary, because it needs a home.

This train wreck of a trial is a bit like a Korean airliner crash. It takes a series of errors to get there, but given the people involved, they surely will. A bad law puts the jury in the position of deciding what was going on in Zimmerman’s wretched brain. The jury selection process results in a jury of ladies who might find an encounter with a black hoodie frightening. And then they are told that if they have reasonable doubt about what was going on in Zimmerman’s mind, they can acquit him. The verdict is not a surprise, but it underlines the shabby nature of American law- making and enforcement for the 216 years since a revolution based on a twin commitment to slave ownership and tax dodging, masquerading as a freedom struggle.

Quick and unoriginal Eurovision thought

Eurovision is massive in Australia, probably more so than it is in much of Europe – despite the fact that there aren’t any Australian participants, we don’t get to vote, and it’s shown on time-delay. Which is odd.

Of course, its importance is symbolic. Eurovision was first shown in Australia in 1983, which was exactly the point when the first generation of Australian-born people of non-British and non-indigenous descent (*) was in the ascendant (since from 1946-1973, migration policy had moved from ‘The Empire’ to ‘any country you like as long as you’re white-ish’).

Australia was shedding old stereotypes about national background, stiff-upper-lips and machismo, and forging its own identity with a nod to all the cultures from which the population was now derived. Combining row-of-tents campness with a near-total match to white Australians’ homelands, Eurovision couldn’t have worked better as a totem of the New Australia.

The White-ish Australia policy has now been dead for almost exactly as long as the British Australia policy had been in 1983, and again, the country has changed substantially and for the better for it. Sure, there are still plenty of bigots, but Asian cultures are now a massive part of the Australian mainstream.

It occurs to me that what we really need now, to cement and mark this, is some kind of massively campy event that somehow nods to both Australia’s multiple European heritages and the Asian heritage of New New Australians… Any ideas?

* yes, I know there have been Chinese and German Australians for almost as long as there’ve been white Australians and for much longer than there’s been a country of Australia. But mass migration was overwhelmingly from the British Isles until after World War II.

Thanks for all the fish

The news from the horrible (and immensely stupid: who the fuck would allow a chemical plant to be built literally next door to a school) West fire in Texas today, with its “70 injured, no I mean 70 dead, no I mean 5 dead” just reminded me of this brilliant commentary on newspaper reports of tragedies.

(from Dirk Gently; if you’ve not seen the BBC adaptation, do. And if you’ve not read the books, stop reading now and don’t come back til you have):

They started at forty-seven dead, eighty-nine seriously injured, went up to sixty-three dead, a hundred and thirty injured, and rose as high as one hundred and seventeen dead before the figures started to be revised downwards once more. The final figures revealed that once all the people who could be accounted for had been accounted for, in fact no one had been killed at all.

A related thought in my brain, which was very much shaped by the 1980s British rationalist writer community, in the light of Mr Dawkins being a dick on Twitter as usual. We’d like to imagine that if Douglas were alive today, he’d be in the camp of the Iains and Terrys, but there’s at least a possibility he would have ended up with the Martins and the Richards.

Fuck.

Consistency, aviation and discrimination

The average woman weighs less than the average man, as does the average child. This is undeniably true.

By far the most important cost for the average aeroplane flight is fuel, which is directly dependent on total take-off weight. This is undeniably true.

The average woman joining a passenger aeroplane flight carries more luggage than the average man, and families with kids carry more luggage still. This is also undeniably true, as is is the fact that women are still far more likely to be primary carers.

So the current model under which fuel costs for passenger aeroplanes are based on the total weight of passengers, but excess charges for luggage are based solely on luggage weight irrespective of passenger weight, is grossly sexist on aggregate. Small people with luggage (overwhelmingly women) are subsidising big people without luggage (overwhelmingly men).

Now, you could argue that this is an unavoidable consequence of micro-level decisions and not deliberate discrimination, but if you did you’d be an oaf.

Laws in western countries agree, rightly, that an establishment that makes decisions that end up with men being overwhelmingly privileged and women being overwhelmingly shafted, despite those decisions not being expressly gender-based, is a discriminatory establishment.

I can’t see how this could possibly fail to apply to airlines. The sooner everyone joins up with Samoan Airlines and the weight scheme kicks in, the better…