Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

Johann Hari: Yes the BBC is biased - but to the right - Independent Online Edition > Johann Hari

Johann Hari: Yes the BBC is biased - but to the right - Independent Online Edition > Johann Hari

Oddly, this is the second time in as many months that I've liked one of Johann Hari's articles. Maybe I shold lie down...

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Kilogram has lost the weight of a fingerprint - Boing Boing

Kilogram has lost the weight of a fingerprint - Boing Boing

Congratulations! You now weigh more, in kilograms, than you did before. The kilogram itself (and, by which I mean 'THE kilogram') is getting lighter. Will we see athletes worrying if the metre starts getting longer? If seconds start getting shorter?

Who knows, I've got to go and run off those extra fingerprints...

Ministry of Truth » Blog Archive » The novelty soaks in

This, as Ministry of Truth almost always is, is just spectacular blogging. Highlights include:

"If, as a society, we were just that bit smarter and more observant, just that bit more inclined to be sceptical, think for ourselves and question people’s motives, then maybe the question we’d be asking ourselves is just exactly what the media coverage of the McCanns tells us about how the media operate and what that, in turn, says about the pernicious effect they have on the nature of the public discourse in this country."


"I’m not shocked or horrified by anything that’s happened and I don’t particularly sympathise or empathise with the McCann family at anything more that the completely superficial level of thinking that losing a child in these kinds of circumstances is a pretty shitty thing for anyone to have to go to. I don’t know them, they don’t know me and, so far as I know, our respective lives have never crossed paths so nothing in this has the slightest personal dimension for me at all and I’m not about to pretend otherwise."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Yorker Confirms What You Know: Colic Is A Form Of Torture -- Daddy Types: "Sheila Kitzinger, a British social anthropologist who studies pregnancy and childbirth, has written, 'The sound of a crying just about the most disturbing, demanding, shattering noise we can hear.' The United States military has reportedly used the sound of wailing infants as an instrument of psychological stress, piping recordings of their cries into cells of detainees at Guantanamo Bay."

Good. Now I know my child is torturing me. Huzzah.

Tim Worstall: Now What's a Good Liberal To Do?

Tim Worstall here asks the question that, I think, underlies all of our political opinions. From vulgar libertarians to state socialists, the question of how to regard property that was taken by force in the past colours how we perceive the present, and what we recommend doing in the future.

"The conundrum of course is that the latter is clearly illiberal. But then so was the original taking of the property. But, then again, so have been most of the acquisitions of land and property throughout history. At some point a line needs to be drawn and, OK, yes, he thieved and murdered to get it but it's now 700 years, 300, 50, whatever later, and for society to continue to have property rights at all we've got to ignore that.

So how many years is it?"

It's a question, however, that 'classical liberals' choose not to address. They do not propose an answer because any answer would entail some redistribution of property from its current arrangement, something too horrific for them to contemplate.

It doesn't take much thought to recognise that the historical distribution of property was based on someone's ancestor, at some point in the mists of time, being physically larger than someone else's ancestor. In Britain we helpfully have the Domesday Book, which tells us that it was between 1066 and 1068 that some people's ancestors took other people's lands by force. That, after all, is what conquest is.

It's not a huge leap from here to suggest that the current distribution of property is not the sacrosanct absolute that some libertarians suggest. The remedies that some suggest: nationalisation of land, redistributive taxation on inheritance, may not be the right remedies, but they are, at least, partial answers to the question Tim poses; a question he will never answer.

Is it a question that needs an answer? Vulgar libertarians would argue that any attempt to use the political process to right the wrongs of the past is bound to create new wrongs. There may be something in that, but it does not follow that they will be as wrong as the crime initially committed. I do not believe that should adopt, as a principle, the holding of people to account for the actions of their ancestors, but do we really believe that everything that happened in the past, no matter how contrary to our principles, just has to be accepted as the way things are? Even if the ramifications of those actions affect society today?

This question is fundamental, because it is not just about Franco's house. It is the underlying bassline of all political discussions, pounding underneath arguments from Palestinians' 'right to return' to apologies for slavery to positive discrimination. The question is simply, when do we try and correct the mistakes of the past, and when do we just have to let them go?

Of course, Proudhon gives us an easy out here, as pointing out that as well as stating that 'property is theft' he, in the same book, claimed 'property is freedom' will inevitably make it sound as if you are a balanced and thinking person who has answered the question, when you have not. So...

After all, as Proudhon points out, not only is property theft, but it is also freedom. So there...


Thursday, September 06, 2007

'President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become "President-for-Life" Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.'

This is part of an article apparently written in all seriousness by Philip Atkinson, author of A Study Of Our Decline. It was published on Family Security Matters, a site that nominally informs families about how to keep their homes secure from terrorists. As they say:

Our mission is to inform all Americans, men and women, about the issues surrounding national security; to address their fears about safety and security on a personal, family, community, national and international level; to highlight the connection between individual safety and a strong national defense; to increase civic participation and political responsibility; and to empower all Americans to become proactive defenders of our national security and community safety.

It's probably just a coincidence, then, that it is owned by right-wing think tank, the Centre for Security Policy...

Still, it's a worrying reminder of how often we here calls to sacrifice our principles because we are threatened by those who hate our principles. It is a theme often elaborated by President Bush, who claims that we are hated because we are free, and whose response to attacks is to remove those freedoms. We are told that 'there are no options that we should take off the table' from torture to pre-emptive nuclear strikes on a non-nuclear country. The example above is only notable because it follows these arguments to their logical conclusion. Democracy is weak, and slow, and often wrong, and full of checks and balances.

I happen to believe that our claim to be civilised is based exactly on what we are prepared to 'take off the table'; in saying that there are certain things that we will never do. If we're not prepared to behave differently than those whose behaviour we deplore, what separates us from them?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

This is a very interesting post on Quaequam Blog (and one of the best I've seen on a Lib Dem blog in a long time). I particularly liked the paragraph:

"One thing we, as a society, might try is to reverse the trend towards viewing anti-social behaviour as criminality. 12 years ago, we had more crime, but no-one knew what anti-social behaviour was. One of New Labour’s most pernicious legacies has been to convince people that naughtiness, rowdiness and petty vandalism is something the police should handle when in the past it was something the community itself sorted out. The more we concentrate on anti-social behaviour, the worse it seems. We can never win the war on anti-social behaviour because it is so mutable: unless all young people transform into angels en masse, there will always be someone doing something that upsets someone."

It's probably just me being a hoary old leftie, but I'd also argue that the last 30 years have seen a consistent attack from all parties on the structures we, as communities, had created, and this has left us looking to the state to help us solve problems we would rightly have seen as our own. From trades unions to churches to civic amenities, we have been encouraged to seek fewer solutions in voluntary collective movements, or through local democracy.

You can only tell people for so long that 'there's no such thing as society' before they begin to believe you, and behave accordingly. Or maybe that's overly pessimistic...