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A point of view, albeit not a good one

March 31, 2010 3 comments

In the comments at CiF, a commenter called Heyone summarises their supposed ‘non-racist’ objections to immigration:

It’s ridiculous that whenever immigration is talked about there’s always people shouting “racists!” and everybody starts debating what’s racism. This is just counterproductive.

These people have all missed the point. The majority of people are not concerned what race these immigrants are; they have real concerns about the strain that’s being put on NHS, schools, policing and the benefits system with a ever rising population due to Labour’s mass immigration policy.

No – rather, we’ve taken on the point that none of these ‘real concerns’ are, in fact, true. The NHS, schools, policing and benefits system all work well in the UK; hence why our levels of health, education, serious crime and absolute poverty as a society are all at comparable levels to other wealthy developed countries, and haven’t changed appreciably over the last 10 years of relatively high net migration.

The only way you can make a case otherwise is rely on “ooh, it’s all gone to the dogs round here” anecdotes. And yes, of course the occasional granny will preventably die in hospital; some yoofs will leave school with no skills; some stabbers and robbers will go unfound by overworked coppers, and so on, generating emotive stories. All of which would still happen if we had no immigrants at all and doubled the funding for all public services…

So the ‘pressure on public services’ case against immigration is instantly undermined by all the relevant data, and can only be defended through copious use of irrelevant anecdotes and idiotic assertions like “ooh, the numbers are all rigged” or “ooh, you can prove anything with facts”. In other words, it isn’t really a case at all.

So no, ‘it’s all about the resources’ anti-immigration people, you’re not racist in the same sense as someone who explicitly says they want to kick out the darkies. However, your premises for your stated argument are completely, demonstrably untrue. The remaining question is whether you cling onto demonstrably untrue beliefs solely through ignorance, or whether your stated argument is just a rationalisation of the fact that you don’t like to see foreigners…

*******

I probably ought to add that the post above only applies to people who use the argument above.

If, on the other hand, you think that immigration is wrong because it depresses wages for low-skilled UK-national workers, and believe that 1) a mild disbenefit to a minority of UK nationals somehow isn’t outweighed by the enormous benefits to the migrant *and* 2) the problem can’t be solved by income redistribution from the population as a whole (who benefit from immigration) to unskilled locals (the only people who don’t), then you’re deluding yourself in a completely different fashion.

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Feared by the banks, loved by the gullible

March 25, 2010 9 comments

In explaining how he avoided falling into the common liberal trap of supporting the Iraq war, Dan Davies listed the maximGood ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance“. The fact that all the main proponents of the Iraq war were lying like rugs about WMDs inherently casts doubt on the case for war, even if you believe that a war for regime change would have been justifiable in its own right.

I was reminded of this when looking at the website for the Robin Hood Tax campaign (the Robin Hood Tax is the new, nauseatingly cute, name for the Tobin Tax on financial transactions):

The Robin Hood Tax will not impact on personal banking or on retail banking. That’s because it targets a distinct area of bank operations – high-frequency large-volume trading, undertaken by financial institutions in the ‘casino economy’. 

If you change money to go on holiday, send remittances abroad, invest in a pension fund or take out a mortgage, you will not be affected by this tiny tax.

The Robin Hood Tax consists of a levy on:

financial assets such as stocks, bonds and foreign exchange, traded both physically and as derivatives (options, forwards, futures and swaps).

Hence, any money you change (whether for a holiday or for remittances) and any investments that your pension fund makes will, very obviously, be taxed under it. The tax will, definitely have a negative impact on ‘good’, non-casino-y transactions like people buying shares in companies to generate income for their retirement, or companies converting euros from their export sales into pounds.

This doesn’t, in and of itself, make the Robin Hood Tax a bad idea. That negative impact could well be outweighed by the benefits of the revenue raised and of dampening the speculative excesses of the global financial system (I’m sceptical of the latter: we all know with each successive crisis the speculative excesses of the GFS turn out to be concentrated in areas that aren’t regulated or taxed or indeed understood. But that’s for another day).

But the tax’s proponents are simply lying that the negative consequences for the real economy simply don’t exist, rather than acknowledging them and saying that the benefits are larger. And that definitely triggers my Iraq filter.

We love Admiral Scrumptious

March 12, 2010 6 comments

Lord Adonis‘s retort to Boris on the Tube Lines PPP arbitration is quite superb:

Under devolution, it is for the Mayor and TfL to deliver the Tube upgrades within their generous budget – not for me to bail them out if they fail to do so.

If Boris wants me to take charge of TfL then he should say, and I would start with more sensible priorities like not cancelling the Western congestion charge zone and not replacing a modern bus fleet needlessly – both of which are costing Londoners hundreds of millions of pounds which could be spent on upgrading the Tube.

At some point, I’m going to post on why Tube PPP was a Good Thing (at least, given 2000s capital market conditions – it’s possible that credit availability over the next 10 years will mean that PPP/PFI is no longer as good an idea as it was during the Blair years). It boils down to “the government is committed to paying the money whether it wants to or not, rather than buggering about with the budget year-on-year as happened from 1945-1997″.

(yes, this kind of long-term commitment sacrifices democratic decisionmaking in favour of efficiency. As regular readers will hopefully have picked up, this blog has no moral attachment to the concept of democracy, or “rule by a mob of ignorant idiots”; the only reason I’m not actively opposed to it is the empirical one that other means of governance generally seem to turn out even worse.)

Legal guidelines for photographers in England and Wales

December 13, 2009 1 comment

In the wake of the Guardian newspaper’s treacherous attempts to photograph the secret, hitherto unseen building at 1 St Mary Axe, everyone considering taking photographs in public places in England and Wales should really ensure they’re aware of the complex legal situation surrounding photography.

A conventional reading of the law can be seen in this memo from Chief Constable Andy Trotter, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, where he reiterates many times that “there are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place“.

However, layman as he is, Constable Trotter has failed to consider three very important legal concepts in this matter: the doctrines of ‘jobbious worthious’, ‘soulibus stealibus’, and ‘facina nonce’. Respectively:

1) Jobbious worthious highlights the long-established precedent that any arsehole in a uniform [*] has the absolute right to tell you what to do, demand respect at all times, pretend that he’s a policeman, and be backed up by the real police when they arrive, despite the fact that the closest he’s come to an understanding of the law is the time he got cautioned for beating up some bleedin’ liberty- taker after 12 Stellas on a Saturday night.

2) Soulibus stealibus relates to the fact that the fact that if you take a photograph of someone in any context in a public place you are, ipse facto, guilty of ‘infringing their bleedin’ human rights’. The harm done to the victim reflects the fact that your camera captures a proportion of their soul with each click (proportion captured depends on size of camera, which is why cameraphones are viewed as less serious and tripods as worst of all), and hence the social concern that with sufficient photographs you’ll start to own the person in a voodoo-slavemaster capacity.

3) Facina nonce takes precedence over soulibus stealibus in the event that there is anyone who is, resembles, or has ever been, a child in any part of the
photograph. In this context, you are automatically guilty of making and distributing child pornography (which is defined as anything that a person who is sexually excited by photographs of children, irrespective of context or content, might be sexually excited by), and hence will be summarily hanged.

[*] applies to: security guard uniforms; PCSO uniforms; railway staff uniforms. Does not apply to: school uniforms, although see point 3.

The wrong 1980s Liverpool injustice

December 1, 2009 2 comments

Scepticisle disagrees with my comments on the case of the (appallingly tasteless, Hitler-trivialising) Sun anti-Scargill front page from the miners’ strike which was blocked by the print unions.

My take was that either content should be illegal to publish, or people who want to publish (and are willing to set up presses to publish on – this isn’t a “Griffin on the BBC” point) should be allowed to publish. Even though this particular literary work was of no merit at all, it doesn’t justify overriding that principle to give a small-C-conservative-small-S-socialist cartel, with a massive interest in preserving union power, the power of veto over all nationally published voices. Which really was the case before the print unions were broken.

But that isn’t actually what I’m going to talk about here.

Obsolete also uses The Sun’s equally vile Hillsborough coverage as an example of something the unions might have prevented. In the context of writing about tabloid vileness, there really ought to be a Godwin-equivalent for Hillsborough and the Sun… but even so, the end-point on that one is surely:

1) the Sun is considered appalling and vile
2) the Sun’s accusations about pissing on and robbing the dead are discredited in the eyes of absolutely everyone
3) any suggestion that the Liverpool crowd’s behaviour might, even unwittingly and non-maliciously, have contributed to the tragedy that unfurled is pretty much off the radar of acceptable commentary.

…I’d say that was Liverpool 1, Sun 0?

However, a few years beforehand, when a slightly less fatal, equally badly managed by the cops, both-sides’-fans-equally-at-fault episode took place that also involved Liverpool, the net result was an official decree that Liverpool fans were evil (domestically and internationally), English fans were evil (internationally), and that football fans in general were evil (domestically). Literally unbelievably to anyone under about 30, all English clubs spent five whole years banned from European football.

And yet, even though Liverpool basically wasn’t scapegoated for Hillsborough, and yet massively was scapegoated for Heysel; even though the English football community basically wasn’t scapegoated for Hillsborough and massively was scapegoated for Heysel, it’s the former rather than the latter which is brought up as an example of Liverpool being misrepresented by the authorities and press.

Which is silly.

At Heysel and at Hillsborough, the primary cause of the deaths was the incompetence and complacency of the officials and police supposedly responsible for guaranteeing safety. At Heysel and Hillsborough, the behaviour of the crowds (Juventus and Liverpool fans alike at Heysel, Liverpool fans alone at Hillsborough) was a contributory factor that the authorities should’ve foreseen.

The difference is, the UK authorities (both football and public safety) have some degree of professionalism and non-corruption in retrospect [*], hence investigated Hillsborough properly. Whereas UEFA and the Belgian authorities stuck to the, pretty much criminally complacent, line that “Only the English fans were responsible. Of that there is no doubt“.

Yes, obviously I’m aware that the difference between the two events from a Liverpool perspective is that in one, the people who died were from Liverpool and in the other they were from Italy. The conclusion to draw from that is an interesting one: the stereotype of Scousers of being chippy whingers is actually rubbish.

If they were, then Heysel would be the event that was brought up [**], because it was the one that Liverpool was blamed for and which was properly lied about whilst the guilty went free. So it’s just not the gross injustice that saw Liverpool being blamed and punished for others’ failings that causes upset – it is, actually, grief at the fact that 96 of their people died, horribly and preventably.

And so while the Scum lives up to its name, as does Kelvin MacKenzie, I’m really quite sceptical that “THE TRUTH” headline has quite the impact it’s alleged, any more than staged videos of Palestinians dancing in the street had a significant effect on New Yorkers’ response to September 11.

The important and terrible thing had already happened; the rest was irrelevant.

[*] at least when it comes to investigation, compensation and recommendations for future action; I’m aware that punishment of officials who fail is disappointingly far down the line. However, the South Yorkshire police got a hell of a lot closer to the inside of a courtroom than anyone responsible [***] for Heysel.

[**] it’s interesting that “it was the Scousers’ fault, nothing to see here” seems to have satisfied the families in the Heysel case, despite being transparently false. I suppose “it was partly the authorities’ fault, partly the Scousers’ fault, and partly their own bloody fault” isn’t as satisfying as “the English bastards murdered them” to a grieving relation.

[***] looking lairy, red-and-white and a bit scary on CCTV doesn’t count as “responsible”, even if some kangaroo court does give you 18 months probation on jumped-up ‘manslaughter’ charges.

Imaginary, err I mean intellectual, property

November 2, 2009 4 comments

This is a fine comment:

“I own a sofa. I can arrange the cushions on it in any pattern I like; if I couldn’t it would reduce my rights to my property. I also own a hard disk, and I can arrange the magnetic alignments on it in any pattern I like; if I couldn’t it would reduce my rights to my property. So to the extent that you believe in rights to real property, you cannot also believe in rights to imaginary property.”

The concept of IP-as-property (and hence, of copyright infringement as theft) is a ridiculous fiction: copyright is nothing more than a monopoly on the production of a particular product or service granted by the government to a particular individual or business, in theory because the government believes that the incentivising effect of granting the monopoly outweighs the loss of freedom and utility caused by granting the monopoly.

In other words, it’s as far from libertarianism as you can get: if you support IP laws [*], that shows that you think a) that there are areas where deliberate government planning produces better results than the free market; b) where this is the case, it’s right to reduce people’s freedom for the greater good; and c) the production of plans, inventions, blueprints and artworks is a situation where this is the case.

[*] As a believer in a mixed economy, I do support IP laws and have no intellectual difficulty with the argument above, although I’d prefer penalties for infringement to be smaller and solely civil, and for all copyrights and patents to expire 5-20 years after creation (depending on content type). Curiously though, many of the people who argue for tough IP laws generally argue against government interference in business.

A quick note on free speech

October 24, 2009 9 comments

As far as I can make out, “the right to free speech” means something like “the state will not take action against you for voicing your opinions, no matter how vile, and people who commit illegal acts against you for voicing your opinions will not avoid prosecution just because your opinions are deemed vile”.

If “the right to free speech” meant “the right to be on TV”, or “the right to write a column in the Daily Mail”, then I’m not sure many people would be in favour of it.

For example, I’m distressed that I don’t get to write a column in the Daily Mail, as I’d love to watch the number of breakfast-time heart attacks across Middle England soar whilst I advocated free immigration, heroin on the NHS and legalised bestiality [*]. A six-figure salary would be nice, too.

But I’m not sure that I’d agree with someone who suggested that my right to free speech was being infringed by Paul Dacre’s bizarre refusal to grant me that position. Indeed, given the number of passable writers who’d love a columnist position on the Daily Mail (hell, even if you only include the ones who’re actually right-wing rather than trolling), I’d question that person’s sanity.

And this is why Matthew Parris’s latest column is complete nonsense: he thinks that if the BBC had refused to invite Nick Griffin on Question Time, and if the Daily Mail had refused to publish Jan Moir’s mean-spirited rant about Stephen Gately, it would have been an assault on free speech.

But obviously, it wouldn’t.

Nick Griffin has the right to tell anyone that he’s mates with an “almost-non-violent chapter of a (not the, of course) KKK”; Jan Moir has the right to tell anyone that “those gays are always with the drugs and the suspicious deaths”. But neither of them has the right to expect anyone to listen to them, and they certainly don’t have the right to expect anyone to publish or broadcast their opinions.

(there’s an argument that, because some semi-evolved chimps support the BNP and also pay the TV licence fee, the BBC ought to reflect their views. That isn’t a completely stupid position, but it’s not about freedom of speech.)

The usually-sensible-on-these-kind-of-issues libertarian Mr Eugenides gets this wrong too:

Even if so – even if I agreed [that it's wrong to give scumbags a platform] – who is to decide who are the scumbags, and who are not? The Electoral Commission? The controller of BBC1? David Dimbleby? The editors of Liberal Conspiracy?

But in this case, the editors of Question Time did make a decision: that Nick Griffin was a man who should be on Question Time. The same week, they decided that me, Mr Parris and Mr Eugenides were all not people who should be on Question Time. Editorial decisions here are essential, not optional…

[*] subject to animal cruelty laws, obviously.

Must… not… like… pretend… buffoon

July 31, 2009 6 comments

In the last couple of weeks, Boris Johnson has done three good things that I can remember:

* Allegedly had a row with David Cameron about Crossrail, taking London’s side
* Endorsed cycling home after a couple of beers
* Supported restarting tours of London’s disused Tube stations

Meanwhile, I can’t think of anything bad he’s suggested over the same time. And yes, I know the whole point about the probably-manufactured Crossrail row is to do a ‘moderate’ act, and I know the latter two points are irrelevant identity statements with no serious policy implications, and this kind of thing still isn’t going to make me vote for him.

And yet… and yet the latter two are identity statements that I approve of. The public admission that having a few drinks isn’t a problem, and doesn’t impair your functionality to the extent that you can’t ride a bleedin’ bike [*], is both entirely true and against the mood of these curmudgeonly times. And tours of disused Tube stations will make existing geeks happy and help recruit new ones – and were done without any problems until 2000, so clearly could be restarted without causing any major harm. Indeed, both are the kinds of things that humourless pseudo-experts rail against, whilst not causing any major harm. They’re the opposite of the showcasing, ‘let’s ban stuff that doesn’t do any major harm but that we don’t like to send a message’ side that makes the current government so loathsome [**].

And yes, I know that Boris’s tube-booze ban is the ultimate example of a spurious ban, second only to the Tory plans to turn back the licensing laws to the absurd WWI-dictated situation that prevailed previously [***].

So, can we have someone on the left who’s prepared to stick up for Fun Stuff over Spurious Bans? Hell, someone on any official side would do. Then again, since the target audience at this election apparently consists of middle-aged nurses who’re afraid of everything, probably not.

[*] Car comparisons are spurious. We allow kids to ride bikes, fercrissakes.

[**] I might, through extremely gritted teeth, vote for them this time round as discussed. But my God, they are.

[***] The licensing laws are an excellent example of lobbying from big business creating an unalloyed improvement that neither party dared to or wanted to bring about in their own right. Since the public mood at the moment still seems rather puritan, I’m thanking all deities for the fact that the booze industry has deep pockets and political influence.

Yes nucular, no Tridentular

July 14, 2009 11 comments

Supporters of nuclear weapons systems like Trident generally justify the cash by saying things like ‘dangerous world, Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad very bad men, we can’t just disarm’. Or, more cynically, ‘place on world table, we can’t just disarm’.

I’m not totally sold on this argument – after all, the US will continue to have nuclear weapons for as long as it has a military-industrial complex [*] – and anyone who we can’t defeat with our conventional forces is realistically also going to be a strategic threat to the Yanks, no matter how annoyed they might be with our lack of military spending. And ‘place on world table’ is awesome for a few hundred diplomats and politicians whilst making c.sod all difference to anyone else.

But let’s say it’s true: we need nuclear weapons to deal with global security threats and enhance our prestige. Fine – but I don’t think I’ve seen any coherent argument for why we need to spend £60-80bn on Trident, rather than achieving all the ‘potential for revenge’ and ‘woo, we’re a nucular state’ through a lower-tech programme like India’s – which would cost somewhere between 10% and 25% as much.

That would still give us ballistic and cruise missiles capable of obliterating anyone except for the US and Russia – who we wouldn’t be able to obliterate with Trident either, even if we wanted to (not least because most operational aspects of Trident are controlled by the US). Which ought to be enough, oughtn’t it?

Anything I’m missing…?

[*] which we don’t to quite the same extent.

Obvious ‘Madoff with the money’ gag

July 4, 2009 5 comments

Over at Bystander’s, some sanctimonious caants are talking a load of sanctimonious cant about one of the financial services community’s finer comedians, Bernie Madoff, and why he’s a Very Bad Man Indeed.

They pointed me to this document, which is absolutely superb – the self-pitying ramblings of people who, having grown used to receiving copious quantities of pretend money-for-nothing, now believe their lives are ruined because they have to live off their employee pensions.

My comment there was:

Some people who were super-rich are now rich; some people who were rich are now on the same level as everyone else. And all of them were *utterly, unimaginably stupid* to entrust their money to someone like Madoff. Their whiny sense of entitlement doesn’t exactly contribute to one’s sympathy for them, either. “Oh noes, I’m no longer a gazillionaire, instead I just have to live on my pension like every other bloody pensioner…”

For those who’re wondering ‘what happened to the money’, there never was any – he paid out the $60bn that he received as fake profits to his investors. In other words, he took $60bn from gullible shmucks, and paid it out mostly to the same gullible shmucks. That’s why ‘harmless redistribution’ above – the scheme’s only impact was to reward early investors at the expense of latecomers, like all Ponzi schemes.

…and if I were a US taxpayer, I’d be marching in the streets against the greedy morons getting a penny of my money in compo.

…and I stand by every word. I simply don’t understand tough sentencing for financial crimes, given that money simply doesn’t matter that much, and nearly everyone who loses out in a financial scam thoroughly deserves to do so.