Friday, 15 January 2016

Transgenderism

Every time I hear about Transgenderism on the radio, and it is nearly every morning, I ask myself "what are we talking about here?". How has this become such a prominent issue in the public life of the nation? Let's be clear, I have enormous sympathy for people with genuine gender dysphoria - the outward appearance and physical characteristics different to your gender identity.

And aside: That this condition exists rather gives the lie to those who believe gender is a social construct, and that the only reason women seek different roles is mainly because of social pressure.

So, let's dig out some numbers; a few thousand post-operative transsexuals in the according to the UK ONS in 2009:

The Home Office ’Report of the interdepartmental working group on
transsexual people
‘ based on research from the Netherlands and Scotland,
estimates that there are between 1,300 and 2,000 male to female and
between 250 and 400 female to male transsexual people in the UK.
However, Press for Change estimate the figures at around 5,000 post-operative
transsexual people.
Further, GIRES (2008) claims there are 6,200 people who
have transitioned to a new gender role via medical intervention and
approximately 2,335 full Gender Recognition Certificates have been issued to
February 2009.  
So, post-operative transexuals are about as twice as frequent in the population as people who've been struck by lightning. But there's more to transgenderism than just those who've had the operation. Under a broader definition to include

  • Gender Variance: A person’s feelings about his or her gender identity that do not conform to the stereotypical boy/man or girl/woman category as assigned at birth.
  • Transsexualism: This term is used to describe a person who has ’transitioned‘, or is in the process of ‘transitioning‘, or intends to transition from male to female or female to male. 
  • Transvestite: A transvestite individual feels compelled to wear clothing normally associated with the opposite sex, but does not desire to live permanently as a member of the opposite sex
  • Drag: A term applied to individuals who cross dress often for entertainment purposes.
  • Androgynous: A person who does not fit clearly into the typical gender roles of their society. Androgynous people may identify as beyond gender, between genders, moving across genders, entirely genderless, or any or all of these. Androgyne identities include pan-gender, bi-gender, ambi-gender, non-gendered, a-gender, gender-fluid or intergender. 
The numbers are estimated to be about 0.1-0.5% of the population, 65,000-300,000 or so people (ONS, 2009).

So, we are talking about a very small number of genuinely transexual people, onto whom we latch a much, much larger number of people who range from transvestites to all manner of special snowflakes, who merely want their victim status enshrined in law.

The fact that the troubles of the "Transexual community" make it onto the news every single day, isn't because of widespread problems, but it's about culture and virtue-signalling. Take a group of people with a genuine condition, amenable to medical intervention, and to whom we owe sympathy and respect, we've add a much larger group of people whose interests seem to be mainly about rubbing "society's" nose in its "intolerance" rather than any genuine injustice they've faced.

My contempt for latching onto the "transgender community" starts with none for people who're genuinely transexual and increases as we descend the list above. I am not sure most Drag queens would welcome being included on the list - aren't they in the "Gay community", and in any case seem well able to look after themselves? I struggle to keep up.

To these people I say, you're not discriminated against because no-one will use 'zir' as a pronoun, you're just an arsehole. 



Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Annual Prediction Game: the world is STILL getting better. Mostly.

Electorates across the rich world are losing the plot, and increasingly backing utter numpties all over the place. Mostly, the likes of Trump, Le Pen and Corbyn will not win elections, and sanity will prevail. The last 6 years have seen middle-class wages stagnate in the rich world and voting for these populist goons is a way express dissatisfaction with this fact. Meanwhile, the global poor continue to get better off. 

2015 saw a continued decline in the number of people in absolute poverty, who struggle to get adequate calories to survive. Fewer than 10% now live on less than a $1.90 a day, down from 36% in 1990. 1990, by the way is the year the world started to abandon the idiotic economic shibboleths of socialism and embraced markets. It's not even clear in-country inequality is rising in the westAnyone who says "the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer" under capitalism, is simply wrong. 

Even the rise of populist politics in the west can be seen as a symptom of success. In previous generations, semi-educated morons would be too busy surviving to have opinions, and nor would they have any means to express them. Should morons express themselves, educated people would have had the confidence to ignore them. Now morons not only have opinions, and a means to express them, but they expect to be taken seriously! Worse, educated people, who are usually achingly tolerant, have internalised the idea that all opinions are equally valid, while being ashamed of their status. The morons' great yawp of disatisfaction mouthed by the likes of Farage and Trump will, however, pass as successful economies resume stuffing their fat mouths with bread and circuses, and the Morons stop listening to politicians again, even ones that stroke their prejudices. 

Corbyn is a slightly different phenomenon: here an antediluvian trot has taken advantage of a disorientating defeat, and been swept on a wave of unusual unity from the hard-left to capture Labour. Young, ignorant pillocks, who don't remember the piles of corpses and devastated economies left behind by Socialism, have flocked to his banner. Moral certainty, and so the nice-sounding homilies of socialism poison a new generation. 

Democracy means playing whack-a-mole with bad ideas, and this dispiriting process has sucked the confidence out of the West. Without an enemy with which to contrast ourselves, we've rightly turned to solving problems within. But this focussing on our problems has given many the impression there are fundamental flaws in our society, and created a yearning for certainties. Hence the support, on both the idiot left of Corbyn and the Trump/Farage moron right, for the likes of Putin. 

The return of real wage growth will see off the populists in a way rational argument won't. If they're getting richer, people will stick with the status quo.

War has taken more lives in 2015 globally  than in the previous few years. We have spent the peace dividend following the defeat of the Soviet Union. But Russia is re-arming, China is starting to throw its weight around, and the Middle-East is in flames, and so the West must pull together and re-arm too. Although Fukuyama's "end of history" was widely derided, we have acted for 25 years as if he was right. The free west needs to rediscover its confidence, and start asserting itself again. Democracy's march has slowed. Dictators have learned to manage the process. Idiot socialism is coming back. Whatever the faults of our society, the free-market liberal democracy remains the best, freest society yet devised, and we should be confident in our moral righteousness, when facing down our enemies, domestic or foreign.

Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Last year's predictions were as follows:
  • I think 2015 will be the year the FTSE breaks 7000. One day it will, one day I will be right.
  • Oil will fall to $40, and maybe below and stabilise in the $40-60 range. USA becomes the world's swing producer
  • The Conservatives will win a thin majority in GE2015. There maybe 2 elections. Don't ask me how. no polling backs this up. But the country doesn't want Miliband, and Cameron's actually done a pretty good job under difficult conditions and doesn't deserve to be sacked. UKIP to win 3-5 seats, Farage to fail in Thanet, the party's national vote share in the 10-12% range.
  • China's growth over the past few years will prove to have been overstated. China's slowdown to get worse. India to continue to develop rapidly. Modi proving his critics wrong: He may be the man to get India working and taking its rightful place as a major economic power.
  • Russia will try to save whatever face it can for Putin, as it withdraws from Ukraine in response to the falling oil price and continued sanctions. Russia will be set up to rejoin the world financial system in 2016.
  • IS will be reduced to a rump by the end of the year, as having been stopped in their tracks on a number of fronts, they will find the supply of jihadis will dry up.
  • Darfur will be the international flash-point to watch
How did I do?
  • The FTSE did break 7,000 and then collapsed. 1
  • Bang on the money about Oil 1
  • Bang on the money about the election, though I overstated UKIP's seats. 1
  • Bang on the money about China and India 1
  • I under-estimated Putin's willingness to make his people suffer for his grandiose designs, though the Ukraine ceasefire is mostly holding 1
  • Perhaps over-optimistic about ISIL's defeat, but they are certainly in retreat. 1/2
  • Not sure a great deal happened in Darfur, indeed it seems to be quietly solving its problems. 0
5.5/7 ain't bad! And looking forward:
  • The FTSE 100 will recover lost ground, and make a new high in 2016. Oil will remain below $60 for the foreseeable future.
  • Inflation will remain low, and there will not be an interest rate rise in the UK until at least the 2nd half of 2016, and probably not until 2017.
  • The UK will vote to stay in the EU, and do so relatively comfortably.
  • Trump will not be the Republican nominee, but it doesn't matter. Hillary Clinton will be the Next president. However ghastly she is, the GOP is going through the same existential madness that is currently gripping the Labour party in the UK. Hell, given the current bunch of twat-o-matic onanists vying for the Republican nomination, I'd probably have to vote for her.
  • Corbyn will remain leader of Labour through 2016, and will poll in the mid 20s by the end of the year. 
  • Labour will start losing MPs to defections and a small chance of a formal split in the party.
  • We've seen peak UKIP: I estimate a 25% chance of Douglas Carswell resigning the whip in protest at 'KIPpers being mostly ghastly pillocks with horrific views.
  • ISIL will continue to be degraded, and continue to lose ground to various forces. Putin will continue to prop up Assad, and Syria will become increasingly binary, as Russian and Regime forces grind down all (non-ISIL) opposition to the regime. 
  • It is likely the west will grudgingly accept Assad's part in the post war Syria.
  • It is possible 2016 could be the year of the QSD, a Arab League and US-backed coalition of (mostly) non-jihadi, democratic (ish) Syrian groups.
  • The conflict in Ukraine will remain frozen, Putin's aim being a nation with an open sore, which cannot therefore join NATO or the EU.
  • If the last decade was China's, the coming one looks like it may be India's. India is just too corrupt and chaotic to manage 'big bang' development by government fiat, but China's getting old before it got rich, and there is *a lot* of mal-investment to purge. China's economy will weaken sharply in 2016.
  • India's rise may be more sustainable, as it will have to be driven from the bottom up. India's growth rate will be higher than China's (largely fictitious numbers) again in 2016.



Thursday, 17 December 2015

Trump and Corbyn, Le Pen and Farage; Putin and the Crisis of Democracy

Vladimir Putin runs a managed democracy. He controls the media, he ensures that any opposition figures that make it to telly, are risible tosspots. Credible ones are killed, unless they're too famous, like Gary Kasparov, then they're just ignored. The country Putin governs responded to the collapse of its empire and subsequent "humiliation" by electing, and then submitting to someone who trades in a simple narrative; that of Russian greatness. We've been here before.

Those homo-erotic pictures of a bare-chested Putin hunting, much mocked in the west, are part of a pretty scary cult of personality centred on someone who is by some measures the richest person in the world. He oversees a kleptocracy where wealth flows from power, and power flows from the Kremlin. Why did the Sochi winter olympics cost $51bn? Because grand construction projects are a good way to distribute state funds to chosen cronies.

Much is made of Russia's "humiliation". In reality, the former satellites of Russia's brutal empire are seeking protection against their former master. The Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Poles who escaped Moscow's grip have absolutely no desire to go back. Georgians sent troops to work with Americans in Afghanistan in a desperate bid to secure NATO membership, and the protection that offers from Russian aggression. Ukrainian's government are desperate for western support against Russia in their frozen conflict in the East.

Meanwhile Russia is pumping out their Narrative: that Ukraine is "not a real country", that Russia is responding to NATO "aggression", and that its neighbours do not warrant full autonomy as independent nations. And useful idiots from left and right lap up this toxic, stupid narrative. Otherwise intelligent people claim there's moral equivalence between Estonia's enthusiastic and voluntary membership of NATO with the aggressive annexation of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea and the ambiguous warfare in the Donbass. Putin's lie that the people who stood on the Maidan in Kiev were "fascists" and that the protests were "western-backed" stands no scrutiny. Fascists made up 3% of the parliament post-Yanukovych. The Maidan protests were not western backed, and any agents provocateurs there may have been on the Maidan were most likely (though no proof as yet) to have been Regime-backing Russians.

Recently, in a grand and theatrical gesture, Russia deployed a few squadrons of bombers to Syria to prop up the ailing Assad regime. This wasn't done to "fight ISIL" as many would have you believe. They're mostly bombing the people the west want to win. It was to secure a say in post-Assad Syria, place Russia (and by extension, Mr. Putin) at the centre of world affairs; ultimately to buy bargaining chips for Putin to negotiate away the sanctions that are crippling his country's economy. Further benefits: destabilising the middle east may raise the oil price, and the ongoing refugee crisis (made worse by Russian bombing) destabilizes the EU, an organisation second only to NATO in the Kremlin's demonology.

Social media discourse on politics in general and Russia in particular has become prone to what is known as the "Pish gallop" in Scottish politics. Putin was one of the Few world leaders to endorse Scottish independence, and Russian observers were the source of the rumours of stuffed ballot boxes: the "Pish Gallop" describes the tactic of overwhelming an opponent with multiple lies, each of them egregious but without sufficient time to refute them all, you end up leaving the central idea unchallenged: the grand lie that Russia is responding to NATO "provocation".

What has this to do with the west?

The lunatic fringes, left and right buy into the narrative of a corrupt and decadent western "elite" which is somehow to blame for everything bad. Syria? the west's fault for invading Iraq. Libya: the west's fault for bombing an armoured column in a country that's already at war. No Arab; not Mohammed Bouazizi, nor the people from Benghazi to Cairo who rose up to overthrow dictators are credited with any agency in all of this. Everything is somehow a grand (and often "zionist") conspiracy. This is comforting to people who want to see themselves as courageous crusaders against a decadent establishment. But this is self-serving and childish disatisfaction with the messy compromises of electoral politics. Morons have always yearned for Fuhrerprinzip of the charismatic dictator.

Putin is busy corrupting discourse on social media, with professional trolls who go around commenting on everything from the Daily Mail, to this blog. These trolls support all opponents of the status quo, from Anti-fracking activists (Putin has no interest in Western Europe being self-sufficient in oil), to UKIP (an EU without the UK would be much weaker) and "Peace" activists (who mostly share the Kremlin's belief that NATO is always the problem) and political extremists of all stripes in a general policy of throwing sand in the faces of the entire decision-making apparatus of a free democracy.

Even if these Fringe politicians steer clear of outright support for Putin, the Trumps and Farages, the Corbyns and Le Pens all share some or all of the Kremlin's assumptions. While Putin's Russia is far, far weaker than the old USSR, the moral certainty the west once enjoyed has gone. The Kremlin may be weaker, but its "Useful Idiots" are stronger.

The problem is without an enemy - and we've been schooled to see Russia as a friend for most of the last 25 years - freedom becomes complacency. The success of western economies means people way down the income distribution no longer have a significant struggle to find enough calories or shelter, and thanks to social media, their voice is now being heard. Those who once struggled for survival are now looking for self-actualisation and respect. Putin is pouring poison into the discourse and seeking to crow-bar open the cracks in our society, even as its success becomes manifest.

Take a step back. The UK spends 2.2% of GDP on its military, lower than at any point in our history. NATO is an association of free democracies (though Turkey is at the moment stretching that definition). Russia is an aggressive kleptocracy, who spends disproportionately on a new and highly mobile military; a nation with an appalling human rights record which has repeatedly annexed territory from its weaker neighbours, and is bent on overturning the post-war security architecture of the world. NATO's "aggression" is, in reality holding at arms length Russia's former clients, who're clamouring to join us in the west with our freedom and market economies. The west faces no significant challenge, but we're blind to the poison being poured in.

The aim of all this disinformation and posturing is that when the little green men pop up in Narva to "defend" the "Rights" of "Russians" living in Estonia (defence they've not asked for, of rights they're not denied), and Estonia asks for help, the populations of the west will not support NATO kicking the Russians out. The result of which is the Baltic states must once again fall under the sway of Moscow, slice by slice. And this means their proud nations, this time, will die. Is this the best we can we offer the two million brave people (about 1/3rd of the population) who joined hands in 1989, determined to look west? And where will an emboldened Russia stop? Donetsk (Twinned, ironically, with Narva)? Kiev? The Vistula? We've seen a dictator play this salami-slicing game before. Stopped early, war can be prevented.

Putin is feeding the "anti-establishment" lines, which get far more traction than they deserve. Our "elite" is not "corrupt", NATO is not "an aggressor", our democracy isn't a sham, Russia isn't being "provoked", Fracking doesn't "poison the water supply". The ballot boxes were not stuffed in the Scots independence referendum, we are not being lied to by "the mainstream media". Please stop repeating Putin's lies, however much you want to agree with them. Please be sceptical of Russia Today. Please don't say "Putin stands up for his people" because he doesn't. He is prepared and able, unlike our leaders, to sacrifice the Russian people at will, to the greater aim of Greater Glory of Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin. Do not be his useful idiot.



Wednesday, 30 September 2015

What is Putin up to in Syria?

First let's get one thing clear, Putin is not making a principled, humanitarian intervention against Islamic State.

Assad is Russia's ally in the region. The major disagreement between Russia and the West is Assad's place in the post-civil war Syria. Putin thinks it's Damascus, the west thinks Assad belongs in The Hague. Failure by the west to intervene left a power Vacuum into which Putin waded with his military. This served a number of purposes.

  1. It put Vladimir Putin centre stage in negotiations which allows him to present himself as someone who's made Russia a force once more in world affairs. Those handshakes with the American president are extremely important in the Russian Media.
  2. By deploying credible forces to the region Putin gains a seat at the table and earns a bargaining chip, potentially in return for the easing of Sanctions. This should be resisted.
  3. Helps secure Russia's southern flank, itself vulnerable to Jihadists 
  4. It's a show of military strength - a rapid expeditionary deployment of forces at short notice. In doing so he's made a virtue of necessity: you cannot hide such a deployment 70 miles from the British listening station on Cyprus, so use it to distract from the ongoing destabilisation of Ukraine and demonstrate capability.
  5. Finally, most refugees aren't fleeing the theatrical murderers of Islamic State, but the desperate Assad regime, which is killing seven times as many Syrians as the "Caliphate". The refugees are therefore fleeing a war which Assad is at present losing, and probably would have already lost by now were it not for Russian support. The resultant refugee crisis weakens the EU, another Putin bugbear, so he's perfectly happy to prolong the Syrian slaughter.

The fact is Assad isn't fighting IS all that much, but is instead losing ground to moderate rebel groups in the south, Jabat al Nusra (the official Al Qaeda franchise in the region)  and many others in the west. He's even ceded some ground to Hezbollah, in return for their military support. The Kurds, Hezbollah and JAN Islamists are the main opposition to IS. Most Russian actions appear to be against non-IS rebels too. The main purpose is to support Assad.

The main function of bombing IS is for Putin to further play to his supporters in the west's belief that "here is a man of action and a man of principle". Assad's regime is propped up. The refugees continue to split Europe, and western inaction exposed as weakness.

For the west's part, there's nothing that would solve many of our Foreign policy problems more than Russia getting sucked into an unwinnable war in the Middle East. By taking the best kit south, it would take pressure off Central Europe and Ukraine. It would cost Russia money it doesn't have, weakening them in the long run.

It's all breathtakingly cynical. We should not be persuaded by any of it. The Western powers had an opportunity to intervene in 2013 and earlier. Now it's too late. The Russians have made their play, and we (and above all the Syrians) must live with the consequences. If you take "Iraq" as a cautionary tale of going to action, Syria is a cautionary tale against inaction. Of the two, Iraq was basically a draw, and Syria is a catastrophic cluster-fuck that's strengthened one of the worst people in the world. Inaction appears to be worse.



Monday, 28 September 2015

The Real Reason Drugs are Still Illegal.

I have outlined many, many times why drug policy is insane, and how a properly regulated supply-chain, generating taxes rather than spending them on the futile task of interdicting supply, would be better than the current system of prohibition.


The arguments are compelling to all except those who cannot accept that "Drugs are bad" does not equal "Drugs should be illegal". Think about the issue in any depth, and most people come to the same conclusion. Politicians such as Nick Clegg and David Cameron have been on record as favouring a more liberal drug policy, as do many police I've spoken to on the subject (in a social, not *ahem* professional capacity).

So why does nothing happen when such people get to the top of the tree?

Most people do not take drugs, (at least outside the unofficially sanctioned, and generally accepted "few spliffs at university") and hope their children won't either. Many are absolutely persuaded (wrongly, as it happens) that one puff of a spliff is a first step on the road to becoming a smack-addicted self-arguer in the underpass. It is more reasonable to think of substance abuse as a mental illness, afflicting some people who take drugs. Alcohol is at least as bad in this regard as some substances listed as Class "A". Let's not pretend there's much difference between the self-arguers in the underpass with special brew, and those who inject Heroin. In fact they're often the same people whose objective is oblivion. The drug used to achieve it depends upon circumstance and personality. The dependence isn't a feature of the drug, but a consequence of multiple factors. Such substance abusers are highly visible. They are also a small subset of people who take drugs.

Ultimately the problem with drug laws is the people most affected: users, are either highly visible and acting as cautionary tale, or utterly invisible to officialdom. No-one is asking the happy stoners, the gak-snorting partiers, or the functioning junkies who only get high/stoned at the weekend and pay for it out of income, what they think. These people have to hide their opinions on drug laws. They either don't really care as their fix is just a phone call away, and won't rock the boat and cannot take the risk of coming out publicly as being users. Furthermore, should these people get caught up in, for example, a drug bust, all legal incentives will be for them to claim the drugs as a "problem", and hope to be treated as an "addict" rather than be dealt with administratively by courts. Problem users and drug related crime are therefore created in the statistics where absent the illegality, there would not be. Any hard data on drug use and effects on any but the most extreme problem users, is hard to come by, which skews the data, most of which is in any case highly motivated, assuming cutting use is the purpose of policy, not minimising harms.

Thus the media picture of "drugs" is set according to the availability heuristic: A problem, leading to destructive behaviour; when the reality, for most users, is vastly different.

Politics is full of solutions that are simple, easy to understand and wrong. The opponents of drug liberalisation have the simple logic of the statement "Drugs are bad, so ban them". The legalisers have to make the complex, counter-intuitive argument that most, if not all, of the harms that flow from drug use are a direct consequence not of their psychopharmacological effects, but of their illegality. And frankly most people to whom you need to make that argument will already be assuming you're a filthy junkie and will be ignoring you anyway. It's an extremely difficult argument to make to most people.

For example, it's likely there would be fewer heroin users were a full recreational pharmacy available legally than there are now. Why? Because of the pyramid marketing of drugs is particularly effective for heroin. Users become dealers to fund their habits. There were few problem opiate abusers before it was made illegal, and most of those picked the habit up in hospital. Just try making that argument to a Daily Mail reader.

Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently to any politician thinking of putting drug law on a less insane footing, is prohibition has gifted the most profitable business in history to criminals. In doing so, it has created rich, powerful and ruthless people, used to violence who have thought nothing of assassinating politicians. 

Any politician who looks like getting the supply-chain out of criminal hands would be a direct threat to the people currently in charge of a multi-billion dollar industry in a way an enthusiastic drug warrior would not be.

There is no public clamour for drug reform. Users are people who by definition can already get the drugs they want. Most people are happy that drugs are illegal, and are inherently conservative. And there are vested interests in law-enforcement and the criminal fraternity in favour of the status quo. A simultaneous monstering from the Tabloid press and the immediate threat of assassination by some of the most ruthless criminals on earth? Is it really a surprise when politicians who're known to be privately in favour of liberalisation keep their heads down over something of such marginal interest to most of the electorate, who in any case, have already made up their minds?



Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Prime Minister's Questions: Whither the Bear-Pit?

Jeremy Corbyn's first outing in the bear pit of Prime Minister's questions went better than either man could have hoped for. Corbyn, a lousy speaker and poor debater got off lightly, and the Prime Minister avoided the obvious banana-skin of publicly beating-up a careworn old geography teacher who accidentally found himself at the dispatch box while looking for some sandwiches.

There are few more tiresome tropes in politics that PMQs are a "national embarrassment", with all the jeering and petty tribal point-scoring. But it is just about the only debate people can be bothered to watch. If you're interested in an earnest debate about the issues, you can see everything live on the parliament channel, where the members who've taken the trouble to learn about a given issue turn up to craft and fine tune legislation. There are select committees where members scrutinise the business of Government, calling ministers and civil servants to account. Few bother.

PMQs however isn't about the business of Government. It's party-political. It's designed to test the mettle of the Prime Minister under fire - tough forensic questions, not about the issue, but to play the man. Put the man under pressure, in public and see how he fares. It means the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition learns to handle pressure, and crucially the voters can see how he fares in the bear-pit, often weekly, for years before a general election. He's out there in the manner of a Medieval king in front of his troops, meeting his opponent with the armies arrayed behind them. You find out which tribe is stronger, which is more unified and where the cracks might be. It tests the man as a leader, as a debater. Good at PMQs? Better able to stand up to Vladimir Putin in the great councils of the world.

The idea this is where you can forensically examine the Government's record earnestly is like complaining Rugby's too rough as England play Australia in a world cup final, declaring chess a better sport in world where physical prowess is no longer needed. You'll have missed the point. And get de-bagged by the Exeter Agrics 3rd 15 and have a pint poured down your crevice into the bargain. And quite right too.

Every politician comes to the dispatch-box for the first time promising "a new politics". I've little doubt that Demosthenes promised a new style of politics in the Ecclesia two and a half thousand years ago. But what Corbyn will find is instead of testing Cameron's mettle, and demonstrating his own, this Consensual PMQs will allow Cameron to calmly state the Government position in front of the largest political audience in the country; and neither man is tested. Far from being more democratic, the public have less information about the vital character of the people they are auditioning to lead the country. Corbyn is not doing his job either as a party political warrior, or leader of the opposition testing the Prime minister.

If you think this new style of politics, a consensual, nice, quiet PMQs is an improvement on the old one, you're a po-faced, sanctimonious bore, who's simply ignorant of what PMQs is for. The reason Corbyn sought to change the rules, is because he'd be demolished under the "old politics". He's going to get demolished anyway, but he's just spiked his own guns too. As for a "national embarrassment": nonsense. The commons bear pit is held up as an example of proper scrutiny not of legislation, but the man too. Our top politicians are held to account by the legislature in a way few outside the westminster system are, and many envy us that.

 
(Not PMQs, Not "England" either, but the point remains. The Bear Pit has its uses).



Monday, 7 September 2015

On Germany's "Morality"

Germany's population is falling, German women are breeding below replacement rates and so they have 1.7m empty homes. Thus offering to house 800,000 Syrians is a great deal easier for Germany than it is for the UK, which has net migration of more than 300,000 last year, plus something of a baby-boom (now tailing off). Germany can, and indeed needs, more immigrants. The UK does not. Syrian immigrants solve a problem for Germany - low housing prices, declining population and economic drift in many regions. The very same people in the UK would merely add to pressure on housing, and do little to boost an already strong economy.

Build more houses you say? The UK is building at capacity, there's a shortage of Bricks and Brickies, and we're not keeping up.

So there you go. It's handy when morality solves a problem for you. Cheap too.



Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dead Children in the Mediterranean

The independent leads today with harrowing photographs of a small boy, maybe two years old, face-down in the surf having drowned. You will see this image shared on social media, along with impassioned pleas to "do something", as if opening Europe's borders to the 10m Syrians who are currently displaced is a viable option.

You will hear it said that this is all because of the 2003 war in Iraq. Perhaps that is a part of it. But perhaps a premature withdrawal before Iraq was able to look after its own security is more to blame. But actually this is a small part of the problem. People are fleeing Syria, where the west didn't intervene to topple a poison-gas using dictator (Assad, gassed people around Damascus in 2013) to one where we did (Saddam Hussein gassed Kurds in Halabja in 1988).

The origins of the Civil war in Syria are not due to the coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, but more down to the self-immolation of a market trader called Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December 2010, an event credited with starting the "Arab spring" whereby the populations of several countries, including Syria rose up in an attempt to overthrow their dictatorial leaders. As ever, economics played a part. The rising oil price back then made fuel subsidies unaffordable to non-oil exporting leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Syria's Bashar Al Assad. Removing the fuel subsidies created an environment where the previously content middle classes of Damascus and Cairo decided to throw their lot in with the usual malcontents, the Muslim Brotherhoods and less savory organisations who saw their chance.

But you will see the lazy assertion that the Syrian civil war is "our fault" because of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And certainly the rise of Al Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi later became ISIS/ISIL/IS under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was facilitated by the lawlessness of post-US withdrawal Iraq and the incompetence of the Governments.

But ultimately, this is the long-running sore sectarian sore of the middle-east, that various dictators have sat upon, with varying degrees of success, with or without help from outside powers, since the 9th century. The problem, those showing the photo of the dead child on the beach would have you believe, is that "we" caused the problem. "We" did not. The problem isn't that Europe is too "callous", and that the problem would go away if everyone was as achingly moral as they were. There are 10m people displaced around Syria's borders. The brunt is Borne by Turkey Lebanon and Jordan. Iraq too is taking its share. It's just in the UNHCR camps, well run, by the way, there's no work. It's a boring, depressing, but safe existence. There is food and water, from which shit is separated. It is quite understandable that people seek a better life in Europe.

Europe is spending billions, helping people in the camps. That people want to come is understandable. But the idea we're doing nothing to help them, or have an obligation to let them in, is more about the virtue-signalling of the person saying it, that the real moral position. Worse than the vacuous moral posturing, is the complete lack of agency you give to the people in this situation. Millions are waiting patiently in the camps, or in Beirut or Amman to return to their homes should peace return to Syria. Yet some decide to put their children in the hands of people smugglers and unseaworthy vessels and unventilated trucks. These people bear the responsibility for the dead children far more than the "Cameron" whom countless memes exhort to "do more".

 The very people most likely to share these self-aggrandising, shroud-waving memes on social media, are the same ones who're ostentatiously anti-war. Perhaps if any politician in the west is responsible for the success of ISIS it's Ed Miliband who successfully vetoed international military action in 2013, wholly for domestic political concerns in order to wrong-foot the Prime Minister. Perhaps if we'd started supporting reasonable groups in the Anti-Assad forces in 2013 (or earlier, my view it was already by then 18 months too late), IS may not have got such a foothold. Or maybe not. We will never know.

Not "our" fault, those dead kids. We do have an obligation to help Syrians and we are doing so through UNHCR, but that's not the same as playing host to the entire population. The solution in Syria is military. If you want to blame a British politician, blame Ed Miliband. An American one? Barack Obama who brought the Troops home from Iraq prematurely, before Iraq could look after its own security. But ultimately blaming politicians in the west for the complete failure of the middle east is futile.



Jeremy Corbyn.

What fun!

First, I am not a neutral observer. I am a £3 Labour supporter and Voted for Corbyn. I have a £10 bet with betfair at 23:1 (and a few quid on the others to ensure I come out ahead, whoever wins). But it looks like the Labour party is going to do it. A man who's barely spoken to most of the PLP in decades, preferring the company of like-minded trots.

And this is where it's going to get interesting. The hard-left is clannish. They do not tend to mix much. They may have apolitical friends who share some interests, but no-one actively from the other viewpoint. They'd no more be friends with a Tory than with a botulinum bacillus. These people congregate in certain professions: academia (social science faculties), local government and trandes-unionism. And given their concentration, and total unwillingness to befriend people with heterodox views, they're liable to underestimate the support for their opponents, and imagine themselves a majority.

Amongst these people, Corbynmania has taken hold. They flock to hear their man speak, repeating lefty shibboleths in the manner of a Strawbs tribute band. The tunes are the same ones the older ones in the crowd remember, but there's something lost in the delivery. "You can't get me, I'm part of the Union" somehow no longer fits the zeitgeist of this individualist age.


The problem the Corbynistas face is they are few in number, and strikingly poor at arguing. Jezbollah himself is rather thin-skinned, becoming angry when questioned forensically about supporting this terrorist group, or sharing platforms with that despicable anti-semite. Now I am sure Corbynladen is a decent guy. It's just he's spent decades in politics agreeing with those around him about what must be done. Meanwhile his solutions were tried, not just in the UK, and were everywhere found to be disastrous. The world moved on. Politics in successful countries is about the management of liberal, free-market democracy. How much do you tax? what is the most efficient way to administer benefits? Who manages what? It's clear that the state is not very good at managing stuff, even if it's an excellent financer of services. But those who yearn for the state to reclaim the commanding heights of the economy are going to be disappointed, whether or not they get their way.

Tories are currently at 42%, Labour at 28% in the polls, for what they're worth.

The electorate, when he's elected, will look at him, give him the benefit of the doubt for a bit. I dare say Labour may enjoy a Corbyn bounce, as people remember what great tunes were played in the 1970s and 1980s. Then the reality- the months-long wait for a telephone or washing machine from state-run stores, British rail as a by-word for inefficiency and delay, waiting lists for cars, the rubbish piled in the street, the dead going unburied and an attempt by hard-core marxists to assert that a country should be run not from the ballot box, but at the point of production.

Corbyn will spend his time as leader answering questions about his relationship with, and comments about organisations most people in the country regard as our enemies. He will be torn to shreds. If you think the "Tory smear machine" is working him over now, they've barely started. As for the Tory party itself - it's a studied example of masterful inactivity. Never interrupt your enemy when he's making a mistake.

So what will Labour do? That depends whether Working Class Eyebrows, Mrs Balls, Liz Magnolia-Paint et al. can regain control of the party. But I suspect the rot has gone too deep. The influence of the unions in the constituency parties is too all-pervasive. The whole party has been attracting hard-leftists since Miliband won his leadership battle. These people are going to try to retain their grip the party. As the hard left see Labour as THEIR party, and they're not going to give it up.

There's going to be a battle, not for the soul of the Labour party, that's always belonged to people who still describe themselves as "socialist", but for the brand. Will the next electable centre-left politician to be put before the British people be under the Red Rose of Labour, or will Labour's grown-ups split to form a Social Democratic party, perhaps a take-over of the Vacant Liberal Democrats? The question is who gets the Labour brand: the hard-left or the modernisers? Labour's problem is the Germ of socialism in the party's DNA leaves them vulnerable to exactly what has happened: a takeover by socialists who've kept the faith.

My guess is that this time, the Labour party will not be able to kick out the loonies. Parties are weaker, smaller and so more beholden to people with *ahem* excitable views. So there will probably be a split. The next non-Tory prime minister in about 2030 will likely not be from Labour.



Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Immigration: Some is good, More isn't Necessarily Better

The reason the UK is attracting migrants from all over the world is, thanks to our Empires, our Language is the word language. Migrants are more likely to speak English than French (which is why Algerians and Senegalese tend to stay in France). There are a huge number of people from all over the world already living here, so migrants can plug into existing communities.

Thanks to the invention of free-market, liberal democracy in the 19th and 20th centuries, and especially since the rejection of Socialism in 1979, the UK has a vibrant and diverse economy, that can absorb near-enough everyone who wants to come and play. The UK is richer than Poland, and despite Labour's best efforts, remains a better place to live than Eritrea. We have secure property rights, which means foreign oligarchs can stow their looted wealth in the form of London property, where the likes of Putin cannot confiscate it.

The UK is a prosperous country, with an open economy, secure property rights and a relatively liberal society. British people are tolerant of immigrants and the UK enjoys good community relations.

We do not have ID cards, and the police cannot stop you on a whim. Thus "illegal" immigrants find it easy to find work in the grey economy. Because we have a relatively generous welfare state, there are a lot of jobs - fruit picking, cleaning, domestic labour, care etc out of which the UK-born have priced themselves. The prize - indefinite leave to remain - is within reach of almost anyone who can get here, and work undetected for long enough.

That is why people cling to the axles of lorries to leave France, and it is mostly something of which we can be proud.


People, self organising in Calais, for the right to cling to the axle of a Britain-bound Lorry.

Immigration is good. It does not follow that more is better. That tolerant and open society requires that the majority in it are born, and steeped in it from birth. The main fear the native population has from immigration is communities - the Bradford Pakistanis for example who come to dominate an area, and then cease to integrate. Integration into mainstream British life is vital, if that open society is to be maintained. The Ugandan asians and the Afro-Caribbeans who came over in the 50s and 60s have integrated. Sikhs and Hindus do. Arabs and Eastern Europeans do. Nigerians do.

Despite our success in integration, we cannot take the millions waiting to cross the mediterranean, though in practice we do end up taking most of those camped at Calais. In making it hard to come (sales of wetsuits, and the discovery of corpses in Holland and Norway are indicative of the risks people are willing to take) we limit the number prepared to try.

We cannot allow too many people brutalised by war, ignorant of how to survive in a liberal society to come, lest they are tempted create their own ghettos like Bradford. Too many people, and the incentive to learn English properly, and the imperative to integrate that comes with it, is lost. And it is the Ghettos that people object to, not immigration. It's not race, it's the compatibility of culture and the rate of change of a society; a rate of change that many of the people neither asked for, nor want. When a majority of children in the local school are not British, people question the change: Is this for the best?

So. Net migration to the UK is running at 1-200,000 a year. We add two million people every decade or so. This is why the UK is climbing the charts of National GDP, not falling. We've even got Germany in our sights. UK to be the 4th Largest economy (US$ Nominal terms) on earth in the not too distant future. Immigration is at such a level that the UK has halted its relative decline. Whatever the economic benefits, there are limits to immigration consistent with a liberal, tolerant and free society, especially from countries without a tolerant, liberal and free culture.

Labour, in office openly sought to "rub the right's nose in diversity", hoping immigrants would vote labour in perpetuity. The risk comes when the electorate never bought into the plan. When it was suggested there were limits to migration, people were told they were "racist". The idiot poujadism of UKIP was the result: leading to the return of openly Nativist politics to the mainstream of British politics. The contempt Labour have shown for the electorate on this issue, is one of the main reasons they are facing oblivion now. The mixing up of Migrants with refugees and asylum seekers to suggest "we" have a moral duty to take people, is just continuing this ignoble tradition of contempt.

People want to stem migration of illiterate spouses from Pakistan, but these people are coming to join relatives already here. People want to limit Lithuanian bricklayers, or Polish plumbers but these people are covered by EU free movement of people (and in any case are vital to dealing with the shortage of housing...). We and the EU need to do much more to stem the flow, humanely, of very poor people from Africa, Afghanistan and Syria, and this includes aid and intervention to put their countries back together. So this leaves skilled migrants from outside the EU such as Nigerian doctors, Malawian nurses or Chinese people coming here to study, all of whom are particularly helpful to the UK economy, if there is to be any reduction in the number of Net Migrants.

It's all counter-productive. Cameron deserves blame for setting a silly target on a whim, and Labour deserves blame for encouraging the boil to fester for a decade and creating the problem of legitimacy immigration now faces. Any attempts to control immigration mean putting bureaucrats in control of whom a Bradford Pakistani can marry, or whether a Somali can work as a Taxi driver. It's going to throw up hard cases and inhumanity, as any bureaucratic system inevitably must. This sticks in my libertarian craw. There are going to be Canadians and Australians not granted leave to remain despite holding down decent jobs and living with British people. And all this because of silly targets, and the failure of some communities to integrate. We cannot stem the immigration people do have a problem with, so we're abusing immigrants who're going to accept our norms and be accepted.

We cannot take them all. The right-on left should stop the sanctimonious moral preening of pretending we can. We cannot stop them all coming. The idiot right should stop demonising people who're mostly just trying desperately for a better life for themselves and their families.

We are lucky to have been born here. Part of our duty is to protect the legacy of good governance and social harmony we're bequeathed. This legacy needs protecting from immigrants who won't ever share our values, if too many come at once as well as from idiotic populists on the right, dog-whistling to racists and from left-wing extremists who hate our society and way of life, and who wish to see it swamped to spite an falsely concious electorate which repeatedly failed to vote socialism. Net migration is running at 1-200,000 a year. We can cope with that, just. Especially if they come from a variety of places, both terrible and less terrible. But not much more than that, really.

There you have it: An unsatisfying fudge, like so much of the democratic politics that have created the society immigrants are prepared to risk so much to join. Much more fun to read a moral absolute - a Guardian editorial telling you how brave and noble the immigrants are, or the Daily Mail's dehumanising sub-fascist rhetoric. But the extreme position is almost always wrong, and the unsatisfying fudge of democracy works, despite appearances.



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