Wednesday, 9 September 2009

This is impressive.

Safe(ish), clean drinking water. For nearly no money. With nearly no national infrastructure.

Sometimes, I love being me, just because I can see this sort of thing happening.

I'm editing this to note it doesn't remove some contaminants, but it gets rid of biological hazards. So still wow.
I disagree with many things he says, and much of his approach to life. But the Devil's Kitchen has come up with a fantastic quote.

Talking about the growing campaign against heavy or hard drinking, and a paper published on what to do about it.

In order to reduce alcohol consumption among young people, the level of excise paid on alcohol should be increased


Suck. My. Balls.

Mr Kitchen, sometimes you're right on the money.

Hey, possible-readers. Did you know you're being lied to by the state for your own good? By the time that people say you should be taxing something to reduce its use, there's probably something wrong with your model. There are people in it - you're infected!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

What to do now?

I'm having a problem now. I can just about keep track of who and what things are. I understand some big basic stuff. But I have severe trouble deciding what is important and what is not. For example; Lockerbie. I don't have a strong opinion, and I suspect it's because I'm scared to put forth the opinion that I do have strongly and with conviction. But I'm scared to do that because I really rather like living in my comfortable world. So my next challenge to myself is to take up a cause. It doesn't have to be one I can make a significant difference to. To stick with the above example, I'm not going to have any luck where the US secretary of state failed, or where 1.5 appeals didn't make any difference. But I could educate people who kvetch about the release. That's a difference as far as someone thinking goes.

And a short story here. I was in a park in Brighton recently, and two girls (sisters, in pink) were arguing over who got to be the princess. By the time I left them, one of them was still uselessly insisting that she could be the princess. The other one had a strange smile on her face and was thinking about being Prince Charming, instead of being rescued by him. Now that's a difference for feminism.

So if I have any readers, feel free to suggest things I should look into and/or get behind. I don't want to be a middle-class statistic, but I don't know what I can do. And no, I won't just be waiting for input. I'll be thinking (and I hope doing) as well.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Devil is (wrong) in the details.

Devil's Kitchen has a rather chilling dystopian image to put over; all about citizen spies and the state. However, I think he's tilting at the wrong windmill. States, as such, don't plan to control their citizens. People plan to control citizens through the state, to make them 'better' in some way.

But there's a model that is far older than ... well, not far older than politics, in fact. But far more famous. Never mind the rise of totalitarian parties. We are in the grip of a religion. People are doing things because they /believe/ in a set of moral choices. They think that a better society will follow if they are prepared to guide a citizenry down the right path.

There are competing priesthoods, and even cults within those. But they almost all buy into the belief that society is a good thing in and of itself.

(Personally, so do I. I have this little voice inside my head that says 'violence is right in the right cause'. Which is not a good thing for other people to have of me, so I keep it reined in. The thing that keeps journalists safe from the man behind Devil's Kitchen is the same thing that keeps him safe from me. I fear to hurt him, because I will be punished. I don't actually care how he feels - I think he's wrong about how people behave, and the easiest way to show him that would be to hit him. But I won't, because it's against, heh, my religion.)

But there is a very good point in what he says, although I think he's attributing malice where there is in fact a genuine desire for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Humankind has walked alongside religion for all of recorded history. I think it's hardwired in, and I think that the capacity to believe in the unknown has been displaced onto the amorphous but powerful symbol that is 'society'. My god's better than your god, say the various parties. But they all agree there is a god, and a better future.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Want want want!

I've been pottering around the blogscape for a few weeks now, reading various viewpoint blogs. Other than politically-induced bulimia, I have discovered (read, decided upon) the following.

'Left' and 'Right' are labels that are outdated, but still useful for people who belong to major political parties. But there is a thing called social policy. It's a relatively simple concept, although you can have it in various arenas. The more you lean on it, the more you are investing into a large-scale view of society rather than a small one. So a light social touch lets people do much as they please, under the assumption this will be 'good' in general. A heavy social touch tells people the exact framework in which they should work.

Now, there's a problem here that there are different concepts of 'good', from no person being left behind, to no person having to support others. Many of these concepts are mutually exclusive. But as far as I can work out, it boils down to 'I want' vs 'they want'. Ask anyone on an individual basis what they want and they will reply. Human beings know what they want. But they don't always know if they are giving as much as they are getting or more. To me, that would be an ideal society, assuming that the excess is used to expand society. (Yeah, Utopiansim. So shoot me. I didn't ssay it was /possible/.) That is the basic 'I want' level. But then people go away and think about how to get it, and somehow that translates to 'they want'.

One level of this is unionism, but the contemporary political spectrum tries to take this further, and tells people 'you want'. At which point I think something is broken, because people start to agree tamely.

However, there's a further problem of ignorance. People don't know what is good for them, long-term. Pay taxes now so your roads will still be functional 10 years from now? Who knows if you'll still have a car? Introduce immigration controls to stop skilled manual jobs going to foreigners? Who's going to do the cheap-ass jobs then? And these are just the headliners.

These are all complex problems, and they are not going to get better just because people vote more, or even if they hold their politicians to account. The huge and complicated snarl that is society cannot be understood by the man on the Clapham omnibus. If it could be, we'd be in a very different position.

Libertarians say (distillation here) that without state interference there would be more room for 'good'. You're wrong, you lot. Democracy may let people vote to fuck you with knives, but it keeps them from doing so without a vote. I've never met a libertarian who wasn't what I would term over-privileged. The only way your philosophy would work is after a massive eugenics program. You're assuming enough resources, as far as I can work out - and political systems assume there are /not/ enough. If they're wrong, the onus on you is to prove it.

Labour Parties (generalisation here) assume that people want to work, and want to contribute to society, but that the poor need help from the rich. To some degree, I agree with that. If I go into a bank and ask for credit, I have a far better chance than if my poor friends do. (I don't mind the poor! Some of my best friends are socially disadvantaged...) But it shouldn't cripple the rich, or even the well-off.

So if you want to avoid me being seriously pissed off, there has to be a lot more transparency. What /is/ the money I'm paying doing? I know you can't break it down pound by pound, but shouldn't money from Chelsea be spent in Chelsea?

Well, not all of it. There's a lot of money on the King's Road and not so much elsewhere, and if you let Chelsea keep its money because it's not needed in the direct area, then you have a tax haven. I am in favour of low taxes. I am also in favour of people paying those taxes. It's not about the nobility of the working class or the rights of man. It's about people not being so envious that they upset the whole system.

Conservatives say mostly that small changes are good, but right now I'm not going to address the Conservative agenda in the UK. I think it's lost its way.

So there you go. The levels of want. I want (but might be damaging) They want (but might be louder than they deserve) You want (but might be ignored). I come down on the side of those who say 'please'.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

More on fairness

I should add, regarding my last post, that I tend to think of 'people' as a homogeneous mass, capable nevertheless of rational thought. And I muddled up two arguments because of that. One point I have to make is that there will always be a settling of society with the more talented in positions of higher earning. In fact, those who /have/ experienced a low sort of life will want a padded fall for in case it happens again. Those who have much self-belief will not.

The other point was the one about tax, which follows on from para 1. But that's already been covered.

Yes, there is great misery brought about through being poor. But you do not deal with that by giving the poor money. You deal with it by making sure they can earn money by working. And yes, that does have to mean 'enough' money. Some people fall through the gaps, but it's better than nothing.

Fairness and Justice

I've been looking over rebuttals to the Rawls position of Justice and Fairness. Let me explain.

John Rawls said that if people had no idea which position in society they would have, then given the choice they would define society to avoid being put in a low and miserable position. He calls it 'the original position'. He's starting from a non-existent point of view, as opposed to the current state, and extrapolating from his guesswork.

You were wrong, John. If you need proof of that, go into any bookmaker's and watch people placing bets. Bookmakers earn a huge amount of money. And yet people still take that risk. Some do it because they think they know better; they may be right, on an individual basis. Some do it because they want a flutter. Humanity is not risk-averse. A society based on being averse to risk will choke in its own fear.

What you were doing was setting up a paper tiger and saying 'people will choose not to be eaten by the tiger'. No we won't. We'll ignore the tiger. Or we'll set fire to it in effigy. Or, as it's paper, we don't even need the effigy.

If I had the original position? I would not assume I was an average person. I would assume that I was me, no matter what the /system/ was. Your model cripples society by enforcing mediocrity as the new standard. Of course the low and the miserable will want resources spent on them. What will you do once you have spent the resources once? Tax and spend again?

For a 40% tax rate, people stay in the country and complain about how much they pay. For a 50% rate, they go abroad. I would be so angry under your model that I would leave the second time you suggested taxing me in favour of 'fairness'. No matter what rate you put it at.

No, I'm not a libertarian. I believe that the state should exist and be fairly hefty, because decent capitalism depends on near-perfect knowledge, and on values such as guilt and happiness being the same for most people. Obviously not the case IRL.

I'm conservative, although I'm not a Tory. I believe that on a small level, libertarian policies work. On a large level, they reinforce people not caring. I am a better and more generous person because the NHS exists. I have grown up thinking it is appropriate to have a safety net and a ladder back up to the high wire.

I don't believe we should be spending most of our money and resources building an elevator back up there, John. We'd only be able to reach halfway, and then we'd have to move the tripwire down.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Personal stuff

I've just been asked not to take a Masters in Philosophy. Apprently it makes me argumentative.

But I do think someone should do it. The ghost of John Rawls needs a good kicking.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Me Me Me

I have to say, aphasia makes posting hard sometimes. I had the beginnings of some exposition ready to go in my head earlier, and now they are gone. It is gone. Whichever it was.

On the other hand, I listened to the Beeb Profile of John Bercow. Damned with faint praise would sum it up, if there had been any praise.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Frank Field MP

I will be looking at This speech, which seems to me to be reasonable and rational. So let's tear it to pieces and see how reasonable and rational I am.

Even if the winner is not a reformer, I don't think their tenure will stop the voters' demand to be more involved. I think this is a bit naive, because demand does not translate to ability, or even to concerted or long-term demand. The bankers made a good target. Now MPs are making one.

If we swing back in time we see that the crowd always played a crucial part in the legislative process, making their views felt, long before there was universal franchise. Well, yes. In true democracies, they do. But it's not efficient. The greatest good for the greatest number of people lets some people be very miserable indeed. There are two ways a crowd can make its point felt, and one is shouting loud enough to deafen other things. (The other is by being obviously right, but it doesn't often happen.)

But political parties are now dying. Mmm. That's going to take at least another generation, if they /don't/ find some way to renew themselves. The thing about parties is that they allow filters on the voice of the outside. So the crowd roars, and MPs speak, and a very few people decide.

It's the electorate that is demanding a bigger political say than has been offered by a vote every five years in a general election. Oh, Frank. And you were doing so well. Everyone who can think knows that a general election vote is the smallest contribution you /can/ pay to politics. If you want to make a difference, there are many ways. For one thing, people in Birkenhead can write to you directly. I can write to my own MP. For another, MPs are a loud and flashy show. One person trying to influence things without money can seldom make a difference. (Seldom, but not never.) There are ways to engage with the political process that do not involve waiting five years to make one cross on a piece of paper. Many many matters are and should be dealt with at a local level. If people are demanding more, it is not up to the speaker to give it. It is up to /them/ to find out what they can do.

How many people have read the Telegraph and actually done something other than tell people how angry they are? A 5% increase in circulation and for what? The general election will roll around, and in a year or two this story will be history.

There is also a wish to have a say on who should be the candidate in our safe seats. Well, alright. Personally I don't care about the safe seats. I want to be able to decide who a party puts up in unsafe seats. Then I might actually /join/ one. But I see where you're coming from. Parties don't want to risk their vote in seats that matter. So... safe seats? Alright. I'd like to see primaries there. But I'd like to see fair open primaries that don't have prohibitive costs of entry and advertising. Perhaps I'm preaching to the converted here.

Referenda? Someone learned Latin! But no. Referenda (I learned Latin too) are a way of letting people who are not otherwise engaged shout loudly 'black' or 'white'. They are one of the worst parts of populism, because they combine the slow response of proportional representation with the idiocy of having to put a question to the lowest common denominator, and then make the answer into law. No, no, no...

...where is our vote on the Lisbon Treaty? Tony Blair had it. It's been ratified. Stuff happens. Live with it. Don't make the mistake of speaking about it in the present tense.

We will, in fact, import the Swiss system of referendums into our parliamentary system so as to give the big decisions a legitimacy which they now lack owing to the death of parties. I might /like/ parties to die, but I don't think they will. The whip system allows for a relatively binary approach to the floor. Oh, and then there are Liberal Democrats. A three-party system would be better than two, I think. But there is one heck of a lot of inertia here, and even if one party dies, that will more likely make room for another than cause the demise of their political enemies.

If Coca-cola goes out of business, people buy /more/ Pepsi, not less. Even if they know that soft drinks are bad for them. They're cheap, and they make you feel good.

I know that the pressure from voters for reform is so strong that whoever wins the Speakership will not be able to turn back the tide pushing for a greater voter involvement in how they are governed. I want to believe you, Frank. But I don't. I think you're putting on a brave face. There always has been involvement. There will be a greater delving into those ways.

At least, I hope so. Because I do not want to be in a world where I have a referendum on things I don't care about, but have to attend because otherwise it's apathy.

Last three elections, I've gone to the booth to refuse to vote. How many more times do you /want/ me to do that?