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Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Oh the humanity!
Topic: Politics

Wow! Has it really been four months since I blogged? No doubt about it, Facebook's to blame. It's just so easy to substitute the status updates for proper posts. There is, after all, a significant overlap between those whom I've befriended on there and the readers of this site. Apologies to the rest of you. Must try harder.

Anyway, over in Copenhagen, the great and the good are battling to save the world from Global Warming. The Guardian's George Monbiot tells us that this is a battle to redefine humanity. I'm glad he's put it like that, because he's actually hit the nail on the head. It's your attitude to humanity that is most likely to drive you to one side of the debate or the other. Monbiot's attitude is ... well, interesting to say the least. Tell me what you think of this:

"flying across the Atlantic is now as unacceptable as child abuse"

That's Monbiot writing in 1999. Does that way of thinking strike you as normal? I personally haven't crossed the Atlantic since the summer of 2007, but I've got friends who have been to Vegas several times since then. Am I really to think of them as being on a par with child abusers? I really recommend you read the whole thing, especially the part where he says:

"Stand in Liverpool Street station on a Friday evening, while some of Britain’s richest people are going home to enjoy the fruits of their labours. Do they look happy? Stress oozes from them like sweat, anger shudders beneath their skin. No retail therapy, no holiday in the Caribbean could restore the damage done by this self-consumption. The drive to make more money than you could possibly need, to buy more goods than you could possibly enjoy, is a species of mental illness."

Misanthropic arrogance seeps from every pore. What a bitter, spiteful and miserable creature this man is.


_ DY at 1:32 AM GMT
Updated: Wednesday, 16 December 2009 2:06 AM GMT
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Monday, 17 August 2009
A great gay Palestinian blog.
Topic: Politics

It's time for some light relief! I'm often accused of having a bias towards Israel, so it's time I posted a link to a brilliant Palestinian blogger:

http://nizos.blogspot.com/

Nizo is unashamedly homosexual and lives in Quebec. Some of his output is NSFW, though you'll probably get away with it. Homophobes should avoid though.

Hilarious stuff, must read.


Saturday, 11 July 2009
Can we lose the war on drugs and win the war in Afghanistan, please?
Topic: Politics

Could we have got where we have in Iraq if we'd gone around burning Iraq's oil fields? Hardly. So why do we expect to win in Afghanistan while wrecking the country's poppy fields? I'm getting increasingly annoyed at the senseless prolongation of this conflict.

Just who is this pointless war on drugs protecting? Don't ask me. I've seen people dealing drugs (I suspect it's heroin) right under the block where I live. Thanks to prohibition, I've got criminals plying their trade right under my nose. I don't feel safer knowing that what they are doing is illegal. I'd rather the addicts could get their fix legally at low cost somewhere else.

I do know who the war on drugs is hurting: British soldiers in Afghanistan, whose popularity with the local populace is wrecked because they are forced to stop the Afghans making the one thing that would get them out of poverty faster than anything else. What a gift for the Taliban!

Check out this map:


Notice anything?

The province where British soldiers are fighting and dying is also the major opium production area. The areas of the country where security risks are low are those that don't cultivate the crop in meaningful quantities. If we could only see sense and end this insance prohibition. Crushing the Taliban (who murder girls who go to school and plan attacks on the west and India) is a worthy cause. Stopping some moron in the UK from wasting his life isn't. Innocent people are dying so that others can pose as 'tough on drugs'.

Let's focus on the war that's worth winning.


Friday, 13 February 2009
At the core of the problem.
Topic: Politics

A friend asked me to comment on something to do with the current economic mess. I wrote back about what I believed to be the core problem (with minor changes):

What I keep wondering is when the crunch will be explained to people in terms of the 'principal-agent' problem. By this I mean that banks incentivised their staff in a way that made poor lending rational and caution irrational. If you give someone a bonus this year for a lending decision that could cost the bank money several years AFTER the bonus has been paid, then you should not be surprised if he makes a lot of terrible loans. It would be irrational to expect otherwise. The employee doesn't lose his own money if the loans go wrong, but he gains from the bonus he earns from making the loan. He may not expect to still be working for you when loan defaults anyway.

The bizarre bit therefore is not the behaviour of the individual bankers, which was wholly rational, but the behaviour of those who owned shares in banks and failed to spot the fault line in the business model.

Once seen in this light, nationalisation appears less attractive because the same applies. Governments are elected on five year mandates at best, politicians have limited careers and aren't betting their own money. So the same risk of bad lending applies - just with political motivations instead of personal gain involved. Replacing blind faith in the City with blind faith in Westminster doesn't fix the problem. It's being blind to risk that's the issue.

_ DY at 1:59 AM GMT
Updated: Friday, 13 February 2009 2:04 AM GMT
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Tuesday, 2 December 2008
No more consensus politics.
Topic: Politics

I'm not a fan of consensus politics, so I'm pleased to see the Conservatives at last turning up the heat on Labour, now that Brown's economic management of the UK is exposed for the sham that it always was.

That said, even I am bowled over by David Cameron's latest speech to Muslim community leaders, forcefully warning them of what to expect if Brown wins the next election.

Vote Conservative!


Friday, 24 October 2008
Sarah Palin's barometer.
Topic: Politics

Stopped by Cafe Nero for tea with the Beirut Correspondent today to chew the fat about the economy and the election. He's convinced that Palin pulled a masterstroke in the VP debate by subliminally connecting Obama to the economic mess, using the word 'barometer'. Check out her opening statement where she uses it twice -

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/10/02/debate.transcript/

You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy, is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, "How are you feeling about the economy?" And I'll bet you, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market. Did we just take a major hit with those investments?

Fear about, how are we going to afford to send our kids to college? A fear, as small-business owners, perhaps, how we're going to borrow any money to increase inventory or hire more people. The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end.

The theory, in case you haven't guessed, is that barometer sounds a bit like 'Barack Obama'. It sounds far fetched I know, but I can't help wondering why she used that word rather than 'litmus test', 'acid test' or one of the many other phrases that mean the same thing. The Beirut Correspondent is a big believer in the theory of phonetic ambiguity and can always be counted on to talk about the benefits of a 'new direction' on a second date with a woman he fancies.


_ DY at 6:15 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 24 October 2008 6:21 PM BST
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Monday, 20 October 2008
Vive la France!
Topic: Politics

From the Times:

A “one-night stand” and an angry husband have endangered the career of the French head of the International Monetary Fund and dismayed President Sarkozy as he seeks to put a French stamp on a new world financial order.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4972855.ece

Err ... surely this does put a French stamp on a new world financial order?

 


_ DY at 8:44 PM BST
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Friday, 26 September 2008
What's the ideal experience to be president?
Topic: Politics

I've had some laughs seeing people criticise Sarah Palin for her alleged unpreparedness for high office. It amuses me because she's got more executive experience than Obama, McCain and Biden. She's a state governor, was a town mayor for six years and chaired the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a year. It may not be much, but it's streets ahead of the rest of the field.

It's an unusual election, this one. For the first time since 1952, neither the incumbent President nor the incumbent Vice President is a candidate. What's more, there's isn't a state governor running for the top job. Americans tend to chose governors over senators. Most recent presidents were former governors: Clinton (Arkansas), Carter (Georgia), Reagan (California), Bush Jr. (Texas). That's a pretty mixed bag in terms of actual performance on the job.

So what's the ideal experience for being president? I don't have an answer to that and would like your opinion. Being president requires being commander-in-chief, so you'd think a military background would help. But Ulysses S. Grant won the Civil War for the Union side and yet is not considered one of America's better presidents. He couldn't or wouldn't stop financial corruption. A knowledge of the outside world seems important, but George Bush Sr was director of the CIA and got booted out after one term, partly because he reneged on a promise not to raise taxes. Governors are involved in their state's budget and thus have experience of financial matters, but can be naive or uninformed about the external threats to their nation (Palin only got a passport in 2007, so she could visit US troops in Germany and Kuwait).

What's the right career path? Ideally you should have served in the military, had an overseas posting that required learning about the world outside the US (Ambassador, CIA maybe) and then become a governor with budget responsibility. You should also know a lot about the lawmaking process, ideally through a training in law. But is this remotely possible?

I don't know, but I do know that 'experience' is a dirty word this time round. Watch how Obama tries hard to avoid using it in this hilarious clip (around thirty seconds in):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfblJvKXiP0&feature=related

So where does that leave us? We're supposed to be impressed with Joe Biden's experience. This includes:

1) Defending the Nato bombing campaign in 1999 by declaring on television "Slobodan Milosevic is getting the living hell kicked out of him."

2) Telling a meeting of his staffers just after the 2001 terrorist attacks that to show the Arab (sic) world that the US is not aiming to destroy it: "Seems to me this would be a good time to send, no strings attached, a check for $200 million to Iran."

3) Proposing an unwanted and unrequested proposal for a partition of Iraq into three states, which was completely and utterly rejected by all parties in Iraq and which made him extremely unpopular in the country.

4) Recently informing a television interviewer that: "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed," ignoring the fact that the crash happened in 1929 when Herbert Hoover was president and that television was still in its experimental stages.

Words fail me that it's come to this.


_ DY at 6:40 PM BST
Updated: Friday, 26 September 2008 6:44 PM BST
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Tuesday, 10 June 2008
It won't be fun for the people who lose their jobs either.
Topic: Politics

Check out this story from yesterday's FT:

UK heading for steep rise in unemployment.

I can't get over the first sentence:

To add to the concerns of hard-pressed British property owners who already face falling house prices, rising petrol costs and higher utility bills, the UK's labour market is on the verge of a turning point that will bring a significant increase in unemployment.

Is there anywhere else in the world where a story about thousands of people losing their jobs is presented as bad news because of the way it affects the property market for others? I find it incredibly revealing about what is wrong with this country.


Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Economics 100
Topic: Politics

Take a look at the speaking notes of Caroline Flint's 'Papers for Cabinet Meeting':

 

The media have focused on two parts: paragraphs two (...falls in price later this year - at best down 5-10% year-on-year) and six ("We can't know how bad it will get.") But other parts deserve as much attention for what they reveal about the average Labour politician's level of understanding of economics and the overall way in which they think.

Check out paragraph five:

"Underlying demand for housing remains high and the fundamentals of the economy are sound. But the market is being affected by the global credit crunch, which is making it difficult for many who would like to buy to do so."

It's breathtaking that drivel like this can be uttered in a cabinet meeting. In Economics, 'Demand' means demand backed up by the ability to pay. I'd like to have a Lambourghini but I can't pay for one. It doesn't matter how much I want it, I can't have it. So in economic terms I have no "demand". Now that banks and building societies are no longer giving 100 per cent mortgages and are instead expecting a deposit of anywhere between 10 and 25 per cent, the level of demand had dropped dramatically. Twenty-five per cent of a £300,000 house is £75,000. How many people have that much free cash in their current accounts? Demand is not high.

And then there's the mention of the 'global' credit crunch. This is yet another attempt to present the problem as something totally external to the UK. Of course Britain is not immune to things that happen overseas, but it's naive to suggest that there isn't something wrong here too. There are plenty of British 'sub-prime' borrowers who've borrowed far more than they can afford.

Then there's paragraph four: 'Repossessions are also rising, although we need to remember that the 2007 figure was still only around a third of that in 1991.'

Why on earth is this the relevant comparison? The credit crunch didn't really kick off until the second half of last year. The Northern Rock run was in the second half of September! The housing bubble of the 1980s peaked in August 1988, so a fairer comparison would be with a point earlier than 1991. If the ratio quoted is 1 to 3 now, I think that's an indication of much worse to come.

Paragraphs six to nine are clearly written by with immense faith in the ability of governments to influence events and spare the suffering of the overstretched. There is talk of 'measures' and help for first time buyers. Please God No! Have they learned nothing?

And then there's the part in bold near the bottom: "But it is vital that we show that at this time of uncertainty we show [sic] that we are on people's side."

It really does say 'we show' twice. It's a very revealing typo. It's all about show with New Labour. And in case there's any doubt, Labour has to show that it's on 'people's side'. Well that's a relief. I thought they were on the side of the insects. But sarcasm aside, WHICH people's side are they one? Well from the tone of the note, they are on the side of those who are overextended in the property market - those who've taken on huge debts. I don't recall the government ever caring about people who stayed out of the market because they didn't want to take on unsupportable mortgages. They don't appear to care about future homeowners, just existing ones. So if we follow the logic here, they would favour measures to benefit buy-to-let gamblers (sorry ... investors) at the expense of non-owners who'd like to see a fall in prices.

It's pathetic that cabinets ministers are being briefed by someone with less than a sixth-former's understanding of economics.


_ DY at 3:44 PM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 14 May 2008 3:51 PM BST
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Tuesday, 22 April 2008
London's Mayor
Topic: Politics

I'll be on TV tonight. Don't worry, it's not a repeat of 'Bar Beat'. I'm in the audience for ITV's "You Decide" show in which the three main candidates for the job of London Mayor took questions from the public. You'll be relieved to learn that I didn't ask a question.

The real shock of the night for me was the lack of security. My name was not on my ticket. Indeed I don't think the friend who acquired our tickets ('The Beirut Correspondent' from an earlier article about Lebanon) even had to forward my name at all. I was never frisked or searched and never went through any kind of metal detector. I've had more trouble getting into pubs. Anyone who got a gun into the studio could have shot the politician / policeman of their choice.

You'll see most of what was recorded on the show tonight. It's a one hour broadcast and they didn't record much more than that. I'll be interested to know how much of the audience noise comes across. Two seats to my left was a very pretty blond right-wing Tory who shouted 'Liar' at Ken more than once. With a bit of luck that'll get the camera pointed at me at some stage. If you do see it, ask yourself whether Alistair Stewart's introduction of Ken Livingstone was a bit biased (against him). Boris and Brian didn't seem to get such a hard landing. I'll be curious to know whether they include the question from the black man in the audience who said that Boris had claimed that blacks had low IQs. This turned out to be a reference to an article by 'Taki' in the Spectator during the period in which Boris was editor. I also want to know whether anyone clapped when Ken took credit for bringing London the Olympics. I'm sure some of us jeered.

In a lot of ways, the whole thing was a waste of time. The warm-up man asked us during the interval whether anyone had changed their mind. One hand went up in a crowd of about three hundred. Of course the studio audience isn't representative of Londoners as a whole. I didn't hear anyone speaking in Polish for instance. Viewers at home, who don't have a strong political allegiance may look for more subtle tonal clues. From where I sat, Ken was the one who looked like he wanted the job the most. The other two had a certain hollowness to their conviction. Ken had a mildly better grasp of detail, but that is inevitable given that he's the incumbent and has had to deal with the day-to-day issues for eight years. Boris has a flustered look about him which is endearing in many ways, but which makes it look like he doesn't have an answer to the question even when he has. At one point, Ken lost his cool a bit and ranted about SUVs and sports cars having no place driving through London. If you've ever dreamed of driving a Lotus or a Porche through Knightsbridge, there's no place for you in Ken's utopia. Alas I think he said that after filming stopped when they took extra questions from people who'd not been selected during the recorded portion.

The problem with the whole debate, if it can be called that, is that the job is so narrowly drawn that it's hard to have wide differences in ideology. The show was split into four parts - Transport, Crime, Housing and Fitness for Purpose. Inevitably all were in favour improving the first, decreasing the second, increasing the third (hurray!) and claimed to be most fit for the job. Thus the whole night was spent on technical matters about the costs of restoring Routemaster buses, the best methods to reduce anti-social behaviour on buses and how to punish councils that fail to build more houses. The audience didn't believe Boris's tranport costings or Ken's crime figures. These are of course matters of fact rather than opinion or judgement.

Sadly nobody suggested that there was no need for a London mayor.

ITV, 10.40pm


_ DY at 12:53 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 April 2008 1:13 AM BST
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Tuesday, 4 March 2008
An attack on Global Warming from the left.
Topic: Politics

I've expressed scepticism about Global Warming before and been criticised for it. Part of the reason for this is that I'm known to be fairly right-wing and thus might be considered biased towards businesses whose profits come at the expense of the destruction of the environment. There is little I can do to reject this. I am not a corporation basher. I want businesses to create wealth and to prosper and I accept that some damage to the environment may be needed for this.

So perhaps readers might find it more interesting to read an attack on the theory of man-made Global Warming from someone who is a corporation basher, someone indeed whose views on most things are the polar opposite to mine (Iraq, Israel etc). Step forward Alexander Cockborn (brother of Patrick, who writes in the Independent). He is co-editor of a magazine called Counterpunch, which puts some of its content online. He's a long way to the left of me and indeed of most people. Here, for instance, he describes the rating agency Moodys as 'terrorists'!

It's therefore interesting that we both share intense scepticism about the theory of man-made Global Warming. In a recent book review on Spiked, he argues that the left's embrace of Global Warming alarmism is a consequence of:

"the decline of the left, and the decline of the left’s optimistic vision of altering the economic nature of things through a political programme. The left has bought into environmental catastrophism because it thinks that if it can persuade the world that there is indeed a catastrophe, then somehow the emergency response will lead to positive developments in terms of social and environmental justice."

Bingo! When the command economies of the former Soviet Union and its satellite states collapsed and their failure to match the living standards of the West was exposed, the left had to change the nature of its attack on capitalism. So from claiming that capitalism could not create and distribute wealth as effectively as socialism, many on the left switched to claiming that it did so too effectively - wrecking the planet in the endless quest to provide the proletiariat with bottled water, patio heaters and holidays on low-cost airlines.

Cockburn wants to save the left from this dangerous embrace and fears perhaps rightly, that Global Warming alarmism will be used by western corporations to cripple competition from developing countries - a terrible disaster for the poor. On this one issue at least, I am in complete agreement.


_ DY at 1:24 AM GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 4 March 2008 1:32 AM GMT
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Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Roger rants, you decide.
Topic: Politics

Over at Roger's Rants, Ipswich-based Roger Kirkham is blogging about the trial of Steve Wright, accused of the murder of five women (the reports started on January 14th). Roger himself met one of the victims, as she solicited for business near where he lives - which is also not far from the home of the accused. He was also interviewed by police four times.

http://www.rogers-rants.blogspot.com

I can't tell from the reporting we've had on this case whether the police really have much on this man that a good defence brief can't swat away fairly easily. Wright admits having sex with four of the five victims and that could account for some, if not all, of any DNA evidence submitted.

I'm a bit worried about something that he says in an aside:

There is one other piece of circumstantial evidence that the jury will know. If the killer isn’t Steve Wright, then how come the killings stopped the moment he was arrested?

I've often wondered whether prosecutions ever advance this argument and would be interested to hear from Roger whether it's used. It's going to be an interesting case and I shall be following his reports with interest.

Separately, I'm a little bit disappointed with Roger for what I consider to be a fairly disingenous comment he's made on Melanie Phillips' blog (now hosted on the Spectator website). On the 21st January, he wrote:

"What an embarrassment Mel's blog is becoming. She accuses one of the world's great civilisations of being uncivilised because it refuses to condone theft."

It's the use of tense in the first sentence that bothers me. 'Is becoming' implies that there was a time, not too long ago, when Roger thought Mel's blog wasn't embarrassing. Yet in the years that I've been reading Rogers-Rants, I can't recall a single time he has said anything nice about her. For as long as I can remember he's portrayed her in a negative light: as "Mad Mel" and "Smelanie". Why suggest that there's something recent about his disapproval?


_ DY at 4:21 PM GMT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008 5:10 PM GMT
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Monday, 17 December 2007
Winter of Content.
Topic: Politics

Here's some grounds for Yuletide celebration. It looks as though sanity is returning to the UK housing market. It's long overdue.

Let me explain why. I share a flat with a Pole. He's been here nearly three years. I sometimes have to correct his English. In particular he struggles with the inversion of auxiliary verbs. So he'll say 'How they can do this?' rather than 'How can they do this?'. I must have heard him get this wrong a thousand times over the time he's been here. On 5th November this year, while the fireworks were going off I thought it would be amusing to tell him that Britons were celebrating the failure of a Catholic terrorist plot. He's a Catholic of course - takes his religion fairly seriously.

He had no idea what I was talking about. When I explained, he asked me whether that was why people were wearing 'badges'. I explained that they weren't badges, they were poppies and they symbolised British losses in World War One. Nothing to do with Guy Fawkes.

His job? He's a teacher ... and sometimes he teaches English to 11-year olds! Mostly he does RE and PE for which he is qualified, but I can't help thinking that someone who teaches our country's children should know a little bit more about British culture. I know I do go on and on about the ridiculous price of property in Britain and the south-east in particular. But here's one reason that has nothing to do with me. The price of accommodation in my part of Britain is so high that people on teachers' salaries can't afford to live here unless they want to live like 'The Young Ones', as I do. Most educated British people don't want to live like that. The result is that the vacancies must be filled by foreigners. Our children's education is suffering because of a shortage of accommodation.


_ DY at 2:38 PM GMT
Updated: Sunday, 23 December 2007 5:50 PM GMT
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Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Not all violence is equal.
Topic: Politics

There was a revealing exchange concerning Iraq in Prime Minister's Question Time today, between Vince Cable and Gordon Brown.

Cable: "When he [Brown] was in Basra this week was he told that 40 women, at least, have been executed for personal immorality ... [I]s this why 173 British troops have died? Transferring power from the fascist regime of Saddam Hussein to the terror of the fascist militia who run the streets of Basra."

My first thought was to wonder what Cable thought of World War Two. Did Britain win? That war began when Chamberlain demanded that German troops leave Poland. When it ended, Poland had transferred from the totalitarian regime of Adolf Hitler to the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Is that why thousands of British troops died? It's a shame that in 1945 Cable was too young to denounce the government of the day.

However, there is a deeper point I want to make and it concerns two different kinds of violence. To illustrate them, I shall use examples from American history.

Situation One - You are a black slave in the early 19th century. You own nothing. Your master beats you.

Situation Two - You are a gold prospector (of any race) in the late 19th century. You work in a remote region where the forces of law and order are weak. You find gold but it is stolen from you, along with everything else you have. You are also beaten. If you go back to prospecting there is a significant chance that this will happen again.

Is one worse than the other? Vince Cable might say there is no difference, as in both cases you are beaten and have nothing. But I think that there is a significant moral difference. In the first situation, the person who beats you and lets you own nothing is acting entirely within the law. In the second situation, the people who robbed and beat you are outlaws. They may escape justice, but there is always the possibility that it will catch up with them. Although both situations are appalling. I find the first situation more morally repugnant than the second.


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