Due to the move of the blog to Wordpress posts from Jan 2012 onward will have commenting disabled (when I remember to do it)
Cheers - AE

Monday, 30 May 2011

Not exactly shock news

A deal rather than a manhunt?
Why did the man who said he professed to prefer the instant justice of a bullet to the humiliation of The Hague come so quietly? Why was he protected only by his elderly cousin, Branko, rather than a team of do-or-die bodyguards? And was it really the result of dogged detective work, as Serbian officials have publicly claimed, or did they know where he was all the time?

The answer, according to Western intelligence sources, is that far from being a bin Laden-style raid, Mladic's arrest was an entirely staged event, the result not of police work but of negotiations by diplomats, who spent a year hammering out a deal to get him to surrender.
Really? You don't say.
The deal, which suggests Serb intelligence at least had lines of contact to Mladic's protectors, was sealed by appealing to the Serb hardman's one known soft spot - his family.

Told that they would be looked after if he gave himself up, the prospect of ensuring the safe future for his wife, Bosiljka, and son, Darko, proved key in changing his mind.

''The negotiations about his surrender lasted slightly more than a year, with mainly French, British and German officials involved,'' said a Western diplomat.


''As a result, Serbia gets her chance for EU membership, and he was just picked up by prior agreement in Lazarevo. There was no hunt operation at all.''
It warms my heart to think that this seems as much about EU expansion as it does about catching a murdering fucknuts, but if it took the carrot of Serbian membership to get him I suppose that at least the EU can honestly claim it's done something worthwhile for once. As for Serbia, does it get a refund if the Euro goes tits up and takes the whole EU project with it, or does it get a credit note valid for exchange for one genocidal window licker in the future?

To be shown to the elfinsafetee brigade...

... because it'll probably kill the worst of them, especially if you tell them that not only do some stunt drivers not know the meaning of the word 'fear' they also do not understand the word 'assessment'.

Incidentally, isn't it really just like a giant, life-size Hotwheels set up? Look, they've even got a little bit of track left over that they didn't have room for.

No photos, please may have to add "also not a regicide" to their campaign unless they want the Royal Protection Squad, fresh from getting their cars unclamped, to be on their case for using flash photography while Betty Windsor is about.
During the monarch's recent trip to Ireland and throughout US President Barack Obama's visit to the UK, the palace ordered that snappers not use flash photography.

"The Queen has finally had enough of it - and she believes the accredited official photographers should be good enough to take pictures of her without having to use a flash," a palace source told Britain's News of the World newspaper on Sunday.

The unnamed source said that the 85-year-old British monarch and Prince Philip, 90, both find the flashes "quite disorientating".
She may have a small point there. If flash is for inside and anywhere else there's poor light you'd think that in other conditions photojournalists who would know what they're doing could take perfectly good pictures without it. But then what about inside or in the evening? Isn't Betty effectively saying no pictures? What about the crowds of people who come to see and take their own pictures, often with little automatic-everything cameras or even phones that tend to flash or not flash as they rather than their owners see fit?* No pictures again, is it, Liz? Fair enough if it's on private property, whether your own (I'm not going into republican arguments about that) or that of someone else who has banned flash photography or agreed to a temporary ban for your comfort. And I'd certainly agree that any snapper who gets up close and personal before letting a powerful flash off a couple of feet from someone's face is a rude bastard who deserves to have it shoved somewhere the flash will be the only thing that shines. Apart from that though, who the hell has any right to tell everyone else not to take flash photographs in public?

If it's annoying and disorienting, and I imagine it probably is for someone in the public eye, then perhaps it's time to drop out of the public eye a bit and hand over the bulk of the appearances to various adult children and grandchildren. But to demand that nobody ever use flash photography in your presence, and on top of that in a foreign country that you're visiting for the first time - and incidentally one in which there is a small but vocal section who didn't want you there to begin with - as well your own country, is completely unreasonable in what purports to be a free country. I mean, who died and made you Que...

... oh.

* I have one of these, and while you can turn the flash off it's a pain in the arse to do and it leave a permanent whinge icon on the screen until you turn it back on again. I generally leave it switched on auto all the time.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Nuke the site from orbit...

... it's the only way to be sure.

The end of the world yet again

From the other day

Anything that swivel-eyed, radar-eared, Bible thumping, Pilkington taste tester in the US can do, I can do better. My own research, or rather accidental discovery, into the date on which the world will come to an end suggests that it will take place on New Years Eve, 2030. The year, that is, not half past eight. In fact it'll all happen just as we're doing that thing with the hand holding in a circle and singing something only Scottish people can do properly.

How do I know? My evidence for this? Well, I admit I'm not absolutely sure it's much more reliable than interpretations of various ancient texts that were written by different people living centuries apart, but which these days are usually found in a single volume translated from ancient Hebrew and Aramaic into archaic styles of English via Greek and/or Latin. By all means play at interpreting that if you wish, but at least what I'm interpreting is a hell of a lot more up to date:
only the actual bloody internet!

Blogger, which has recently been spookily prescient with the word verifications it's been making me do when commenting on other's blogs, seems to have foreknowledge of the end of everything as well. While saving a draft blog post for a few weeks ahead in order to keep it at the top of the list I accidentally set the year to 2031 and a little message popped up to tell me that dates could not be past the year 9999. Thing is, it wasn't, was it? But Blogger wouldn't permit it anyway. Some further experimentation revealed the limits of the dates Blogger will accept, and it seems to believe that despite being nearly 8,000 years short of its limit it's not worth it's while accepting anything scheduled for midnight on January 1st 2031 onwards.

See? See? It must know something we don't. The bad news is that I have no evidence at all for any kind of salvation. No being beamed up, no motherships, not even a bloke from Betelgeuse who can get you a ride on a Vogon constructor ship. So my advice for dealing with what appears to be the last New Year's Eve ever is have some good sex - put some Viagra aside now if need be - and then get as pissed or stoned as you both possible can. If the world does end it's best you have some fun before getting too wasted to be concerned, and if the next day does dawn after all you won't give a rip about anything more than getting some headache pills.

I like to think of this blog as offering a service sometimes. You can thank me in 2031, or not as the case may be, and in the meantime credit card donations to the usual place so I can afford all the advertising.

Compulsory voting – an argument against

NB Despite the date of this post it first appeared at Orphans of Liberty on May 9th. The almost identical version here sat in drafts limbo for nearly three weeks before I noticed I'd never posted it. Apologies if it is reappearing in readers of those who've already read it at the Orphanage now that I've finally clicked the post button.

I’ve just read Sackerson’s piece at the Orphanage on why Britain needs AV and compulsory voting, and while I supported AV – the just rejected proposal was, I feel, superior both to FPTP and also to the full preferences variant used in most elections here in Australia* – I have to disagree with him on that other distinction of Australian elections, compulsory voting. I used to be a fan of the idea and had you asked me fifteen years ago I’d probably have agreed, but having now spent several years and seen three elections, two federal and one state, in a country that does force its citizens to partake in the so-called democratic process whether they want to or not, I’ve come to believe very strongly that it’s a terrible idea. In no particular order, and cribbing from a comment I left at OPat Nurse’s a few hours ago, here’s why.

How bad are the political classes now when they still have to put in some effort to get the vote out? Quite often they stink, and that’s despite the fact they need to run around rounding up, and occasionally even digging up, voters ahead of election day. Even then once the winner is declared they tend to stop caring for the next few years. Now, how bad do you think they’ll be when they can say “Ah, stuff it, the proles have to go vote no matter what we do”? As a whole their attitude is already less than their electorates expect or deserve, especially in the safer seats, but if they’re guaranteed a turnout of 90% or more simply due to the threat of punishment for those who don’t show up you can expect things to get worse. Should there be more incentive for citizens to vote? Yes, but compulsion is not only not an incentive but it’s also likely to further erode if not completely remove any incentive the politicians have to try to be worthy of being voted for.

Secondly, there are knock on effects. You know all those millions who don’t bother voting now? You know what their Aussie counterparts do? It’s called donkey voting and consists of rocking up, voting for the first name on the paper without even bothering to look at who it is and what they stand for, and sticking it in the ballot box (obviously here they number all the boxes from top to bottom, or if they’re feeling adventurous they might go from bottom to top). When this began here the parties around at the time quickly cottoned on to the advantage of selecting candidates not on ability but on the alphabetical priority their name would get on the ballot. Aaron Aardvark, a chicken strangler who gives his sister flowers for Mother’s Day and who thinks asylum seekers shud arl bee reparti… repaticat… rapettricate… shot suddenly becomes a better candidate than William Watson, a recently retired Army doctor whose life has always been about serving his country one way or another. Of course they’ve long since randomised the order on the ballot papers here but since they still only print one version the election result is still skewed, though in a way you can’t predict until shortly before the election. Not really much of an improvement for democracy (for what that’s worth) and of course quite unnecessary if you just accept that apathetic mouth breathers really would rather sit in front of the magic fish tank and vote in the X-Factor.

Third, it causes delays. Despite what some may have said AV was not the reason why the last federal election here took so long to decide – it was compulsory voting. Or at least it was a part of it. Think about all those votes that had to be cast in embassies and consulates around the world, all those soldiers on foreign deployments, all those sailors at sea, all those people who were in another part of the country than their local electorates that day. They all had to vote and all their votes had to be counted, but before that was possible someone had to collect them up and ship them back to where they needed to be, all the while maintaining the security of the ballot boxes of course. Inevitably that takes time for Australia’s 11 million or so voters. It might well take longer still for the UK’s 45 million or so, especially with the Electoral Commission’s track record. Postal and proxy votes might help speed things up, but of course both of those come with their own problems.

And what would the Royal Navy do about its submarine crews, especially the ones on Trident subs? They might put to see before the election is even called and not return for a couple of months after election day. A good enough excuse not to be fined, you might say, but then that raises the problem of where you draw the line to separate a good enough reason for not voting from not good enough. And then you need to look into the reasons for everybody else who didn’t vote, and even a 90% turnout would mean checking over four million people. That’s an expense Britain currently doesn’t have but which Australia does thanks only to compulsory voting.

Lastly, and to my mind most importantly, compulsory voting means you lose the right to vote. Seriously, you do. It’s not a right any more but an obligation forced on you by the state and backed up by the threat of eventual violence if you don’t comply. Whether you have the right to vote can be defined on whether you also have the right to withhold it. If you’re not allowed to withhold it then you can’t call voting a right any more. It’s just something else that someone in the government has decided you must do and is prepared to fine you, and if need be send men with guns to arrest and jail you, if you don’t do as you’ve been told. Look at it this way, would you describe your tax bill from the government as being your right to pay taxes?

And even if we accept that a greater participation in elections is desirable is compulsion the only way to go about it? I don’t think it is. First off, and as others have said many times (in the comments on Sackerson’s post, for instance) , we know that a certain number of non-voters stay away not because they don’t care but because they’re effectively disenfranchised by the bloody poor choice of parties and candidates on offer. Why force them to go and vote when that lack of decent option will mean most of them will simply spoil the ballot paper? Wouldn’t it be better to offer them a positive voting option along the lines of “None Of The Above”? I suspect a lot of the disenfranchised would go along to put an X in that box anyway, but even more so if it meant something as far as the result goes. I’d suggest that if the majority of votes are for None Of The Above then all candidates are rejected and an automatic by election scheduled for, say, four weeks time. It’s tempting to say that the rejected candidates should be barred from standing but if a party wants to chance sticking by a candidate that’s already been rejected by a majority of the electorate then let ‘em, and more fool them.

That just leaves what we might call the apathy vote, and when I looked last year at the 01 and 05 UK elections I was genuinely shocked to see how big a proportion the apathy vote might be. In 2001 62 MPs were elected not just with less than 50% of the vote but with a lower than 50% turnout. Incidentally, some well known names were among these 62 – Margaret Hodge, Frank Field, Sion Simon, Clare Short, Harriet Harperson, Diane Abbott, Frank Dobson, Malcolm Rifkind, John Prescott, Alan Johnson, Hilarity Benn, Andy Burnham, Gerald Kaufman, Yvette (Mrs. Ed Balls) Cooper, Hazel Blears, David Blunkett, David Millivanilliband, James Purnell and Kate Hoey among others. Some of them still couldn’t drum up enough enthusiasm in their seats to get more than half the eligible voters to show up in 2005 either. The thought that crossed my mind was that if the majority of constituents don’t vote at all couldn’t it be seen in a way as a vote for no MP at all? Not just a positive rejection of the candidates to be followed by a by election, but a signal that the majority are so disengaged from their governance and representation in Westminster that there’s not actually any point in them having an MP at all, at least for this Parliament.

And what might be the effect the first time a Returning Officer steps forward and announces that due to majority indifference there will be no member for Apathy-on-Thames until the next general election? Either of two things, I reckon. First is that Apathy-on-Thames actually gets on so well without an MP that even more don’t bother next time, but I think that most people will not want to be left without any representative and turnout will go up everywhere, especially if those current stay at homers who wanted to had a way to express their dislike of all the candidates and maybe get some fresh ones.

Now I’m not suggesting that either of these is a magic pill to cure Britain’s democratic deficit. As with AV, which in any case would only have been a very small step in the right direction, no one single reform can be. But together – and I think the second one would probably be a bit too much stick on it’s own without the None Of The Above carrot – they’d probably get a lot more people voting without the need to drive them in with fines and threats of prison.

* AV, or Optional Preference Voting as it’s called here, is used only for state elections in Queensland and New South Wales. For most other elections, including state elections here in Victoria and federal elections for the House of Reprehensibles, er, I mean Representatives, we have to keep going until we run out of boxes to put numbers in. Typically this is up to about six.

Smoked fishiness - UPDATED

En bloc from The Australian:
Australians back plain cigarette packs

MOST Australians support the introduction of plain cigarette packets, with only about a quarter opposing the plan, a new survey shows.

Commissioned by the Cancer Council, the Newspoll telephone survey of 1200 people found almost 59 per cent approved of the Federal Government's push for plain cigarette packaging.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents disapproved of the measure.

Cancer Council spokeswoman Caroline Miller said plain cigarette packets were backed by the science and the public.

"From what we know now, there is no valid reason to oppose plain packaging," she said today.

"The evidence is there, the community support is there and the desperate campaign being waged by the tobacco industry is further indication that it should work."

Labor wants to introduce plain packaging for all cigarettes from mid-2012 but the Opposition is yet to declare whether it will support the move.
As is so often the case with these things the actual questions asked and the context they were in are not reported, and that rings alarm bells. Were there one or more leading questions? Were there restricted choices on Who knows, since what's actually been reported appears to have been taken pretty at face value from a Cancer Council PR embargoed until 00:01 on the 29th May (just over an hour ago here) and amusingly leaked here two days ago. The PR doesn't offer any hints as to what was asked either. There is currently nothing on the Cancer Council's website about the survey, and there is nothing on Newspoll's website either. The lack of openness and the difficulty in finding out what was actually asked along with the fact that the survey was commissioned by a body which is extremely partisan on the issue, oh, and also my personal experience of not having met one single person who thinks it's a good idea - not one - being the polar opposite of 'most Australians support plain packs' all makes me wonder how reliable this survey is. In short, I wonder if it's had the Yes, Prime Minister treatment.

Incidentally, the Cancer Council's PR had one of their mouthpieces actually say (my bold):
“... it’s very encouraging to see that plain packaging is supported by the community, as well as by the science.”
The "science"? Science as in a survey with undisclosed methodology and a tiny sample size? Or science as in "experimental studies where subjects have typically been presented with both branded and mocked‐up plain packs and asked about associations and preferences" (PDF - p11) since there is no actual empirical data on the effects of plain packaging, nobody having been mad enough to do it up 'til now? Obviously I realise that the point I've made on this blog over and over and over again - that all illegal drugs, including illegal tobacco, are already sold in plain packaging and with no branding even possible beyond "the stuff that Dave-o gets" or similar, and that the people in that trade have no difficulty in maintaining a market for their products or attracting new consumers - is not a scientific one, the word "science" having become a cheap whore for any self-righteous, authoritarian, bastard wowser who feels like deploying it as a magic word to win an argument.

No, the point that drugs or any other commodity for which there is a demand do not suffer from plain packaging is not scientific, and the way the word is sometimes used these days I feel proud that it is not scientific. It's fucking factual, which I consider to be a hell of a lot better.

UPDATE - an hour or so later and I've just realised something. Neither The Aussie nor any other news website I seen which has the press release cum propaganda piece dressed as a news story had comments enabled at the time I wrote this. Perhaps a large number of commenters would have opposed the plain packs plan giving doubt to the claims being made, and perhaps not. Make of it what you will.

Friday, 27 May 2011

You either love it or you hate it

Not Marmite, though of course that's true and personally I despise it with it every fibre of my being - I've long since been assimilated by the Australian Borg (that's not a Collective - THIS is a Collective) into eating Vegemite anyway. No, I'm talking about the main stream media's tendency to print a load of misleading bollocks to beat up a non-story into something that they can fill half a page of dead tree with. You'd probably love it if you have paper and ink to sell, but I hate media beat ups. There should be plenty going on in the world for the MSM to print and get outraged about without having to resort to making something out of not a lot.

And so it turns out for Denmark's Marmite ban, which appears to be not really a ban at all according to The Grocer (I owe a H/T somewhere but I found this on a page I'd never been to before while Googling at random and going from links to links to links, and now can't remember where I spotted it). En bloc:
Danish authorities insist the country has not banned Marmite, contrary to UK press reports.

The famously divisive spread was reported to have been the victim of a ban on food products containing added vitamins.

But Danish regulators said retailers could sell fortified products if they gained approval from food marketing authorities. The retailer concerned had withdrawn Marmite from sale rather than submit an application, sources told The Grocer’s sister publication Food Manufacture.

“What happened in this case was that a local control officer in Aalborg informed the company selling the product that Marmite has added vitamins and the company should make an application for approval,” said Jens Therkel Jensen of the Danish Food & Veterinary Administration.

“So the company decided to stop selling the product.”
Are the Danes being ridiculously over-protective and nannying? Weeeeeeell, yes, yes of course they are. I mean, licensing foodstuffs? Yeah, I know almost every country does it but it's all so bloody unnecessary if you simply tell your citizens that they're wholly responsible for what they put in their mouths. As for getting all worried about a little extra vit B or folic acid or whatever, it's not like it's a secret. Look, Marmite could add polonium-210 to the bloody stuff as long as they said so on the label. Yes you can overdose on vitamins, especially if you're also eating vitamin supplement tablets like Smarties, but then that's what plastering RDAs all over the bottles of vitamins is for. Denmark isn't suggesting that - gasp - that actually doesn't do a lot of good, is it?

They'd certainly be acting like it if they felt that Danes needed even further protection from themselves in the shape of a ban on Marmite because of a few extra nutrients, but it seems like all they really want is for businesses to jump through some administrative hoops, no doubt with various fees for licences, approvals, permits or whatever. It's dumb, I'm not arguing that, but it's more an example of being so hidebound that both business and consumer choice ends up being restricted rather than one of insane nanny-statism. However, while the lamestream media (thanks Bill) are so happy to get their cocks in a knot over nannying that they see bans where there isn't really a ban as such they don't seem to be too bothered by a regulatory environment that makes selling a perfectly harmless (though revolting) product so much of a pain in the arse that the company simply gives up.

There might be a story in that somewhere, but what would I know?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Too close to reality

Click for linky
Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur nails it yet again, as does Cracked! with this list of four reasons why instead of treating terrorists like evil masterminds and making getting on a plane ten times as big a pain in the arse as it needs to be we should actually be laughing ourselves silly at them.
A lot of people have a strong interest in portraying terrorists as dedicated, evil badasses. Hollywood, is always desperate for proper bad guys. There are people who are trying to get you to vote for their terror safety laws or sell you terror safety equipment. And of course, there are the terrorists themselves.
When they convince us that they're dangerous Bond-level supervillains, we have to deal with minor airline travel annoyances. But more importantly, we are sending a message to people who sympathize with the terrorists' cause that, "Hey, this works! They're very effective guys!"
But, she says, in reality they tend to be incompetent, stupid, hypocritical and apt to be their own worst enemy if left to their own devices. Go and read the whole thing, and keep it in mind as you move from the shoe removal queue to the backscatter X-ray scanner the next time you have to fly anywhere. The bogeymen didn't do that - we did it to ourselves.

Sorry about the light blogging by the way. Probably another few days of it.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Charm offensive

Reminding guests at the banquet of his own British ancestry through his grandmother, [Barack Obama] filled his address to the Queen with warm and highly personal praise of her and the nation as a whole, to which the monarch replied: “That’s very kind.”
Does he want something? Wrong place, I'm afraid. The whole bloody country is boracic for much the same reason as America - both the present and past governments just can't stop themselves from spunking away increasingly vast sums of money on anything that looks shiny or that someone tells them is a good idea, and when they're unable to tap the citizens of the present for the cash they run up debt to screw the citizens of the future instead.

On the other hand maybe Obama's in the right place after all. The US has just about hit the borrowing buffers but, and I'm fucked if I know why, Britain still has some credit. And when it comes to borrowing money to hand it out to someone else Dave Cameron seems to be a girl who just can't say no, or a guy who lacks the balls to. All Barack Obama needs to do is change his initials to EU.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Apocalypse reset

Click for linky

Everybody panic, the end of the world is back on again.
Mr Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven on Saturday before the earth was destroyed, said he felt so terrible when his doomsday prediction did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife.
His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions - some of it from donations made by followers - on more than 5000 billboards and 20 RVs plastered with the Judgment Day message.
But Mr Camping said that he had now realised the apocalypse would come five months after May 21, the original date he predicted. He had earlier said October 21 was when the globe would be consumed by a fireball.
No real surprise there since these doomsday types do have a bit of a mental block when it comes to events they've predicted with absolute certainty not actually happening. Far from being forced to concede that (a) they were mistaken and (b) now look like complete tits it's apparently not unusual for their belief to actually get stronger as a result of failed predictions.
Shouldn't the failure of a very precise prediction for which they had made extreme sacrifices have prompted disillusionment and disgust — not greater commitment?
Not according to Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance, which predicts that the more we have given and invested in a particular point of view, the less likely we will be to abandon it in the face of contrary evidence. It's the same cognitive process that kicks in when we are made to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our beliefs; in the face of that disharmony, we often change our beliefs to be congruent with our behaviors and self-perception.
That cognitive dissonance thing again, and as the article points out it's not new to doomsayers in general or Camping in particular. They get so emotionally, mentally and financially invested in their prophecies of disaster that letting go of them when they don't happen becomes very difficult. Easier to reset your belief a little and say you mistaken about the date than reboot your head completely and admit the whole idea was wrong from the start. This is Rapture v2.1.

So come October 22nd when we're all still here we can go back to worrying about the end of the world from warble gloaming instead, which is entirely different in that when predictions don't match the reality you have to change your model rather than abandon the overall theory. This is of course not at all the same as a religious nut saying he made an error on the detail but that the end is definitely nigh anyway. No, not even a little bit like it. Because these warnings come from the government, clearly impartial while still attempting to persuade us of the need for the carbon tax PM Gingery Dullard specifically ruled out before the election but which is now demanded by the Green tail waging the minority Labor government dog, and from the equally impartial Climate Commission, established by the aforementioned Gingery Dullard and headed by Tim Flannery. Not the remotest chance that their apocalypse is either overstated or will not materialise on schedule, or that they are as deeply invested in their conviction of the doom that we have wrought upon ourselves, meted out by an angry God Gaia, as Harold Camping is in his belief in his apocalypse, is there?

Dooooomed, but available to stand in for any catastrophists

The appropriate word, Mr President, is 'feck'

Memo to all professional drivers: when checking out a route it's sometimes worth considering clearance under the vehicle as well as clearance over it, particularly if you've got a president in the back of it when you ground the bastard out.

Can't really blame Obama as he probably expected the driver or Secret Service, someone, to make sure the car they insist on bringing everywhere for him could actually make it out of the embassy once it had passengers etc on board, but it still made Oi larf.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Still here

And so it came to pass that nothing out of the unusual happened, except that Brisbane finally won a game and which all considered indeed to be a Revelation. And an eighth angel came and closed the scroll and sealed it all up again, and verily he spake thusly, 'Oh bugger, I backed North Melbourne for that one.'

And then the angels and the beasts and the trumpet players and everybody all went home, and things went on exactly as they had before, although in Hawai'i it was not yet 6 of the clock and might all still be on as far as they were concerned.

But the Angry Exile found that before the last angel arrived someone gave unto him a task that he might labour mightily at it for a bit, and that the lack of world endingness meant that he would have to knuckle down and do it after all and thus blogging was placed upon the back burner.

And there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Literally the ultimate business opportunity - UPDATED

As The Wasp notes the world is going to end tomorrow. Yes, really it is, and the guy who says so, an American by the name of Harold Camping, is completely reliable because he's got a lot of experience in predicting Judgement Day. Okay, sure, that does mean he's predicted it before - for September 1994 - and actually, oh dear, nothing at all happened.

Still, never mind, he's bound to be right one of these days and for all anyone knows his careful calculations that it's game over tomorrow will turn out to be it. And just in case it is some atheist animal lovers have stepped in to ensure peace of mind among those Christian pet owners who will be rapturing off or up or whatever without their four legged friends. Our pets, it seems, may be beloved but unfortunately don't rate the celestial upgrade to Dearly Beloved, and so as you float off Eternal Earth-Bound Pets steps in.
You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved. But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.
And at a very reasonable rate of US$135 for the first pet and $20 per pet after that. What? No refunds makes it seem a bit pricy actually? Oh come on, it's not like you need money where you're going, and if you're sure about it...
We are currently active in 26 states, employing 40 pet rescuers. Our representatives have been screened to ensure that they are atheists, animal lovers, are moral / ethical with no criminal background, have the ability and desire to rescue your pet and the means to retrieve them and ensure their care for your pet's natural life.
Or until October the 21st, which according to Harold Camping is when the the world and everyone on it who didn't qualify for rapturousness will actually go foom. On the other hand, just in case Harry hasn't quite managed the impressive feat of reading the mind of his god and has got it wrong again a contract with EE-BP is good for ten years. And as point out that means any Mayan Long Count Calendar Catastrophists out there might consider taking a punt.

Personally I'm going to send them an email asking if they cover a zombie apocalypse.

UPDATE - and on the subject of a zombie apocalypse, isn't this just the kind of place you'd want to be in if it started? More pictures here (browse to the projects section and look for "Safe House") including one of a cat sitting on a drawbridge. You just know the poor sod who goes looking for the cat is going to be the first to have his brain eaten, don't you? Or is that alien xenomorphs chewing your face off I'm thinking of?

A reply to Sue

In the comments on the last post Sue raised a few points over my bagging UKIP. For the record I'll make it plain: I have a lot of time for UKIP and I agree with a lot of their of their aims. However, my argument was and still is that UKIP is not a libertarian party or a party of libertarians but just another party with some libertarian policies. That they seem to have more than the big three is a point in their favour, but that they are still prepared to trash liberties and property rights means I don't think they can be described as all that libertarian. There are also areas where they aren't saying what their policies are, and while I hope they'd tend toward the small government and liberty end of things until they make it clear we just don't know. If other libertarians feel they can compromise on such things that's their decision, but speaking for myself and having gone through UKIP's policies in detail over the last two days (not for the first time) I keep finding policies that are either illiberal, illogical or might as well have come from Conservative or even Labour HQ. They're still by far and away the best on offer, but if being less awful than Labour isn't a good reason to vote Tory (or vice versa if that's your thing) then being merely an improvement on both isn't enough to vote UKIP, at least not in a general election. Put simply, I find more reasons to not vote for UKIP than to vote for them.

On to Sue's comment, and to take some of her points in turn. First my use of the word "populist" to describe UKIP, using a similar definition to my Collins dictionary:
 adj 1 - appealing to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people - n 2 - a person, esp. a politician, who appeals to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people 
Sue replied:

Where now for Britain's libertarians?

Well, with the events of the last few days that would appear to be that for the UK Libertarian Party. Fucking shame. I was never a member, though as I've blogged more than once I would have chucked my vote its way had they had a candidate standing for me to vote for, but still sad for those who paid for membership, donated money to the party or - ahem - loaned money to its leaders, all in the hope that it might be able to promote libertarianism in one of the industrialised world's most thoroughly statist countries, and maybe even one day win a seat or two.

So where now for libertarians in Britain and British libertarians? UKIP is of course getting a few mentions, and to its credit has become a bit less illiberal now that Lord Pearson is no longer leader and the idea of increasing liberty by banning certain items of clothing - a deal breaker for getting a vote from this libertarian - seems to have been dropped. So is it now a natural second home for those who'd once hoped to be able to vote LPUK? I don't want to go all "considerably more libertarian than yow" but looking at their two most recent two manifestos (for last year's general election (PDF) and this year's local elections) I would say that sadly it is not. While they've got quite a few things that are appealing to libertarians and classic liberals there are also a few significant omissions and some policies that are to say the least odd choices for a party with libertarian pretensions (or intentions as the case may be). Here are a few examples:

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Losing the will to live

Offered almost without comment:

Click for linky

And the most apt comment comes from the comments on the article itself:
I'm going to start a 'walking around acting normal not drawing attention to myself' craze. Shame I'm not on facebook so I can't share it with everyone.
AJ | North Sydney - May 19, 2011, 1:20PM
Not a lot I can add to that.

Blogroll update

I was going to wait until the move to Wordpress, which is looking more likely now that Blogger are fucking up my tags as well and making the tag cloud look like someone's done some kind of ASCII vomit on the top of it, but I'm still trying playing with that and for various RW reasons haven't had the time to get as far with it as I'd hoped by now. So one change that can't wait any longer is to keep up with one blogger who made the jump right away - Uncle Bill's Canadian Blog is no more, or at least isn't getting any new posts from Bill. For a libertarian expat's view on life, politics and freedom coming from the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean the place to go is now The Bill Sticker Alternative.

Empty gesture politics

It's hard to defend Australia from charges of tobacco fascism from Pat Nurse when their latest move is to ban smoking on the beach - not littering fag ends in the sand, which I could understand, but simply the act of smoking - but I'm going to give it a brief go. It certainly sounds like it, and I'd agree the intent might even fit...
The new local law will affect the thousands of people who flock to the beaches, with those caught smoking facing fines of $200. It has been welcomed by Quit Victoria, which said public bans were critical in ''de-normalising'' smoking.
Oh, that de-normalising thing again. Yeah, maybe a bit more than "might". But I'd say that in reality this is the worst kind of gesture politics. The empty kind. Because this is not really a new ban but a local council with a bit of beach copying existing bans in other bayside council areas.
SMOKING is set to be banned on every Melbourne beach from Altona to Elwood, after Hobsons Bay Council became the third Victorian municipality to ban beachgoers from lighting up.
It is expected the new law will be in place before summer, with the council needing to prepare a community impact statement and accept submissions before it is voted on again.
The City of Port Phillip, which stretches from Port Melbourne to Elwood introduced similar laws along its beaches last summer, while the Surf Coast Shire banned smoking in 2008 in a Victorian first.
And we should be impressed? Wave the magic wand of a ban and the problem just vanishes in a puff of legislation, right? Do me a fucking favour. Port Philip Council still has to sift the sands of St Kilda beach at dawn every summer morning and even weekly this time of year for everything from cigarette butts and litter to used condoms and syringes. Syringes, for Christ's sake. And we're expected to think that Hobson's Bay is going to have some big crackdown on smokers when the ban comes in? Not a fucking chance. Did Port Philip? Did Surf Coast? Maybe, but I doubt it, and even if they did it wasn't for long. Come on, what chance is there that it'll be different in Hobson's Bay? And what chance it'll work even if they do? When has it not been illegal to shoot up on the beach? For-fucking-ever, and yet the syringes still end up on St Kilda beach for Port Philip to pick up every morning.

This is theatre, grandstanding, and come the elections late next year something for incumbent local pollies to point to as something they "did" for the community, conflating activity and accomplishment in that way politicians so often do. Yes, it's picking on a minority group too, but mostly it's bullshit, a sop to appeal to non-smoking yuppies in $750,000 McMansions within shouting distance of the beaches. Ban what ever the fuck you want, fellas, but if you don't have the resources to hire some tobacco gauleiters to patrol the beach all day and all night you're going to find, just like Port Philip have, that in a couple of years you'll still be hiring people to pick up cigarette butts and whatever shit there is that's annoying people today. Responsible smokers, such as ones who bring their own ashtrays with them, will obey your new rules and bugger off somewhere else with their money - if they can afford $15 or more for a pack of legal smokes they can't be doing badly and if they're buying chop-chop at a fraction of that they're saving enough elsewhere - while the irresponsible ones will simply ignore them. You could have hired a litter warden or two and fined people a couple of hundred bucks for dropping their butts in the sand, and the irresponsible ones would have soon noticed that those smart enough to bring their own ashtrays or walk to a public one weren't being harassed. A few dollars for a pocket ashtray or a couple of hundred for a littering fine? It's a no brainer. Instead you're going to have to accept that people who smoke on the beach at night and early on when they have it to themselves are soon going to realise that this is an unenforceable law and carry on as before.

Is it fascism? Maybe a little because it'll drive out the reasonable smokers who just want a quiet life, but without anything more than a piece of legislation and a wish it's fascism-lite at worst. Australia may wish people didn't smoke and dreams of being able to wave the problem away (probably with the usual theatrical coughing the smokophobes like to do - I'm sure that's bad for your throat and you should probably stop) and so it makes their lives difficult. But it doesn't really want people to stop because it needs the billions in tobacco taxes and their Big Pharma friends who sell that nice, safe nicotine in gum and patches need smokers under pressure to give up so that there's a market for their products.

Fascism? Only in the fantasies of the most foam-mouthed smokophobes. Big Pharma and their government pals have balance sheets to worry about, and it's in neither of their interests for all the smokers to actually stop. There's not going to be any kicking in of smokers' doors, there won't be any kind of tobacco Kristallnacht. And there won't even be much real effort to enforce any local bylaws that are passed.

This is an empty gesture that will prove as hollow as it sounds. Go to the Hobson's Bay foreshore at dawn on a summer's day in a couple of years' time to count cigarette butts and see if I'm wrong.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

How do you know when a politician isn't lying?

When he's saying that lots more got away with what he was sent to prison for.
Eric Illsley, an MP jailed for expenses fraud and released after just four months of a year-long sentence, has immediately proclaimed that he was a “scapegoat”.
A third of his sentence? Someone remind me, is that more, less or about the norm these days? Even if they have given him a Peckham Rolex to wear. Not that he's a danger to the public or likely to be in a position to do it again, but it still seems like he shouldn't be whining the second he's out. Though given what he's whining about he does have a point.
The former Labour MP for Barnsley Central said there were “lots of MPs” who had cheated the expenses system in the same way as him and his case should never have been heard in court.
“My case shouldn’t have been brought before the court,” said Illsley. “There are so many others who have walked free and nobody is going to say a dickie bird about their situation.”
What a brilliant defence! Shame he only thought of it just now otherwise he could have suggested it to the toughing bastards who tried (and eventually failed) to use the Bill of Rights to avoid court. If only they'd thought to use the brilliant defence of "But everyone else is doing it so why should we have to stand trial?" they could have avoided all that unpleasantness. I'm sure every other criminal will be walking free from court from this week on simply by pointing out that the crime of which they're accused is not unique and that therefore they shouldn't have to answer to a court at all. Mind you, this might even work with some judges.

Sarcasm aside, Eric, I'm sure you're right that you were just made a scapegoat of, but even if every single last one of your fellow MPs had ripped off the taxpayer to an even greater extent than you did - and this is demonstrably not the case - it doesn't fucking excuse whatever level of thieving or fraud, call it what you will, that you yourself were up to. It just doesn't, okay?

Other than that Eric makes a good point and I'm inclined to believe him that there probably were a lot of guilty parties who went unpunished. And of course it's hard to believe the expenses fiddling has actually gone away.
In a veiled reference to David Laws, the former Cabinet minister, Illsley said: “I should have been allowed to apologise to the House of Commons and get on with my career.”
Boom, headshot!

You're still a cunt in my book though, Eric.

Rally against debt ignored - UPDATED

Well, not quite since it's not quite being ignored completely, but since what there is in the news seems to be a couple of short articles linked on the home pages of the Teletubbygraph (near the top) and the Daily Wail (almost at the very bottom and behind an awful lot of guff about slebs), and as far as I could see bugger all on the Beeb, Indie, Grauniad, Express, Metro, Standard, Mirror or Sun, where it's being spoken of at all it's in pretty bloody hushed tones. Yes, of course these few protestors were in much smaller numbers than the thousands who turned out to complain that they might not be able to suck quite so freely at the tax tit as they have over the last decade or so, and they weren't complaining about the loss of things that everybody likes to think of as free but in reality are simply paid for in advance through tax or in arrears through the national debt and, perhaps most importantly, they weren't smashing anything up. But they were protesting about the very large national debt elephant in the room, an elephant that has now grown so big that even some socialists are getting worried enough to call it a crisis.
[...] we will have to find conservatively £1.1 trillion over the next five years! 33% of our debt is held by foreign governments contrary to what some in the labour movement have been saying.
The government is going to cut £83bn over five years which is 9% of the £1.1 trillion we have to find over the next five years. This is based on optimistic estimates about the economy. The government and city economists have got this wrong consistently over the last three years. [...]
Be wary of those who say the debt is not a problem and that has been bigger in the past. There is a very good reason for that as we have spelled out above. It is likely with the cuts and reduced growth they bring on will mean at some time we will have go to the IMF. Their cuts as a condition for loans will be much tougher.
We have to show that we are facing a crisis – which the coalition is walking blindly into it. But we have to build an alternative solution that does not mean we pay for a crisis made by the bankers, governments and the wealthy.
When socialists say that, even if they can't resist finishing with a jealous dig at the wealthy and the banks, you have to recognise that the country is well and truly in the shit. And it's worth pointing out that while accusing everyone else of understating the scale of the problem they themselves are using on the headline figure of a trillion given by the ONS for the national debt, rather than the ONS estimate of around four trillion once all the off book liabilities are included.

Okay, so let's list all the ways out of it.

  • Tax more
  • Spend less
  • Er...
  • That's it

Now the first of those carries with it some problems. The first is that of any government's tax base the poorest have virtually no ability to pay more while the wealthiest, the people who can most afford more tax, have the ability to get out of the country with all or most of their money. That leaves the bulk of the burden of taxing the government's way out of debt to fall on everyone in the middle, the ones who aren't wealthy enough to do a runner easily but aren't poor either - though they fucking well will be before long. The second problem is that when the government owes so much - something like 60% of GDP at the lower national debt figure of a trillion pounds, and well over double GDP at the higher estimate of four trillion - even squeezing the middle income earners might not be enough, especially when it's still spending at a rate of nearly £700 billion a year and rising while only raising a bit over £600 billion in taxes. The third problem is that those middle income earners form quite a large group of voters and may balk at the idea of having to stump up £100 billion just to stop things getting worse, and much much more if the government seriously wants to begin paying off the excesses of its predecessors. The final problem is that sucking yet more money out of the economy hurts. Every pound taken from a company is a pound that it can't spend on things that would grow its business - which could have created new jobs - while every pound taken from an individual is money they can't spend in the shops, save for their future or buy shares in a company that might grow and create more jobs and wealth if it can just get some more investment.

Spending less is vastly simpler and really has only one major problem: as well as the millions of middle income earners who have to pay both for public spending and the debt Britain has millions of public spending junkies too, and they really don't want the money taps turned off. In fact they so desperately don't want the taps turned off that thousands of them are prepared to go to London to demand still more of other people's money and throw things through other people's windows.

And this could have been used by the media as an illustration of Britain's financial problems: that so many more protested about the cuts than went to complain about the real lack of cuts suggests that there are far more receivers of government largesse than contributors to the funding of it, though of course many of the latter may have been working - they have tax bills to pay after all. Instead you might not have noticed that any protest in favour of more cuts even happened at all if you weren't looking out for it, and so the UK's enormous and increasing debt elephant continues to wander around the room almost completely unremarked by most of the country and largely so by the media.

However, aside from those two papers that ran articles on the Rally Against Debt I did notice something in The Sun that demonstrates pretty clearly why the Rally Against Debt was and is so necessary: as a result of cost cutting the DoT is having to hire more staff. Apparently, and almost straight out of a Yes Minister plot, they didn't realise they needed more until it came time to start laying off the ones they've got.

And it's this kind of lunacy that has fucked Britain.

UPDATE - further evidence of lunacy, if any were needed, was the Mainly Fail's take on it.
[...] at a protest opposite the Houses of Parliament today, it was a much more sedate affair, with a paltry 350 people showing up.
But the motives behind the protest may go some way to explaining why it was so poorly attended.
Rather than demonstrating against spending cuts - which are leading to many people across the country losing their jobs - today's event was held IN SUPPORT of them.ers-gather-outside-Parliament-demand-MORE-cuts--unsurprisingly-350-showed-up.html#ixzz1MPCjJb1E
Jesus fucking Christ with a begging bowl, there was a time when the Mail would have been tearing into the fantasy that cuts inevitably mean losses of real jobs rather than the vast numbers of make-work positions that have been created over the last ten to fifteen years. I've hinted at this before but I shall now be very blunt about it: if as a result of this very half hearted attempt at austerity measures so much as one teacher, nurse, doctor, firefighter, copper, binman or member of the armed forces loses their job it can only be because at least one chair polishing, paper shuffling, over compensated, parasitic cunt has kept theirs. The Mail, rather strangely for something that's occasionally accused of being a righty rag, does not make this point. Meanwhile the Tele, who were more neutral, have moved the link off the home page since I blogged this.

The lame-stream media's under-reporting of the Rally Against Debt and their inability to understand the need for it really does speak volumes about where the UK is headed. It will be very cold comfort to those who turned up (I admit that from ten thousand miles away I could only be there in spirit - I'm not wealthy enough to be able to hop on a plane for a short visit and my views on flying should be well known to both my readers) if all they achieve is to be able to point out that they warned everyone back in May 2011 when Britain is where Greece is now and say "We told you so" . On the other hand, at least Old Holborn got his face mask in the papers again.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Moving the furniture, revisited

So much for my mid-week designs on, er, designs for dealing with the excessively lengthy blogroll here and a general rearranging of the sidebars' furniture. I'd got as far as deciding to put the Orphans of Liberty, both the site and the blogs of the Orphans themselves, down one sidebar and the rest of my regular reads with a few RSS additions down the other, below which would be a few other sections like the Other Interesting Sites and Mainstream Media section as now but in the form of a drop down menu. Of course thanks to Blogger's problems of the last few days I've made precisely two fifths of fuck all progress toward it apart from having got a list of all the blogs and sites I want there and a notional set of sections to put them in.

However, like no doubt many other Blogger bloggers at the moment I'm considering a move to Wordpress. I've actually been toying with the idea for a while since the Intense Debate comments system I use here was actually designed for Wordpress and should play nicer over there. I've never been in the position to get rid off that annoying red note about comments below the banner since I put it there and it gets on my tits every time I look at it. Back when I began blogging I created one here and one at Wordpress, but since I found Blogger to be easy enough to use that the other has been sitting there dormant almost ever since. I've been fiddling with it off and on over the last few weeks trying to learn my way around it again, but it's all a bit half hearted since I can't find a template I like and I understand there's less scope for customisation than with Blogger. Even if that's wrong or out of date info the look of this place has evolved from a standard template into something I'm fairly happy with bar a few little details here and there, and which really only need tweaking a little bit.

So what do I do? Right now I'm trying to tread a middle path. exists and now has most of the content from this place moved across to it, though many posts are lacking images and comments are still a headache because over the course of it's life this blog has used three different ones, and this seems to be confusing things. Some Blogger comments are there, many are not, and none of the Intense Debate or the handful from my brief flirtation with Disqus are yet there - I don't even know at the moment if it's possible to move those but I'm hopeful for ID. So for the moment the shutters are still down while I play with the bastard and posts will continue to appear here, though they'll also be duplicated over at AEWP just to be on the safe side.

So for now watch this space. As long as you can still see it and if Blogger satisfies the world that the events of the last few days were a one off and are unlikely to happen again then I'll probably, though not definitely, stay put. If we get any repeats then you'll find me over at the Wordpress version of The Angry Exile. And if I can get that looking the way I want or at least am happy with a permanent move there is a distinct possibility.

Friday the 13th - Part Blogger

Dearest Blogger,

Please do not schedule maintenance and/or major upgrades again in weeks ending Friday the 13th, especially if it coincides with a weird planetary alignment that makes a scheduled earthquake miss Rome by about a thousand miles. Also please check to see if your headquarters is built on an old native American graveyard or if your basement has any mysterious and chthonic tunnel entrances that weren't there before. Make sure whoever you send knows to stay in groups of at least three and never to let each other out of sight, as well as to run like hell if the walls start acting like the floor or if there are any tentacle faced statuettes lying around.

Anxious Exile

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Some recommended reading and a brief update

Not a post as such - I'm still wrestling with making this place a little easier on the eye - but a link to an excellent piece on the nanny state at the Institute of Public Affairs, Australia. It's by an Aussie writer by the name of Chris Berg, who for small-staters and libertarians is probably the best reason to ever read The Sunday Age. His theme in the article is that the nanny state is bad for democracy, and while I've become fairly cynical about democracy I can't argue with the point Chris Berg is making when he says:
... dismissing individual responsibility has consequences. Once you've accepted that the government should not treat people as autonomous, all sorts of authoritarian policy results.
It's aimed at the Aussie nanny state of course, but it's just as applicable to any other country with a busy clique of nannies, Righteous and healthists. Go read the whole thing, and especially the bit about the worryingly authoritarian sounding Preventative Health Taskforce - you just know you've got something just like it by a different name where you live, don't you?

Oh, and an update on something I blogged a couple of weeks ago (which having just revisited I now realise came with a free broken link - oops, sorry). Remember the business of TomTom selling data collected from its customers satnavs to the Dutch rozzers so they could better plan where to set speed traps? Remember how this caused no small amount of embarrassment to the company and forced them to go into what the papers called "damage control"? Well, it turns out that they're planning on selling the data they gather on Australian TomToms as well.
TomTom Australia says it is planning to sell GPS data collected about its customers' journeys to road authorities and private companies even after it was forced to apologise when that same data was used by Dutch authorities to set speed traps.
[TomTom Australia's vice-president of marketing, Chris Kearney] said TomTom was hoping to offer the data - which includes journey times, speeds and routes taken - to Australian organisations like the RTA and VicRoads in the second half of this year, although nothing had been confirmed.
The RTA is New South Wales' Road and Traffic Authority and VicRoads is a similar body here in Victoria. In UK terms they're like a hybrid of the DVLA and the Highways Agency, but since they're also involved in issuing fines, including for speeding, it's a John Carpenter style hybrid which might look alright but you're not sure you can trust it.
He said he would have to examine ways of preventing them from using it to set speed traps.
I'd suggest you have a choice. If you want the money then just sell the data without any preconditions, which I'd bet TomTom is perfectly within its rights to do. If your customers aren't happy with the idea they'll find a way to let you know, probably involving buying someone else's brand. On the other hand if you genuinely don't want it used to plan speed traps then don't fucking sell it to them.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Moving the furniture

A bit of a redesign is in order around here. This is partly due to the increasing length of the blogroll, and partly because of all the blogs and sites in my RSS feed which ought to be on it and aren't, so it's mainly going to be a bit of blogroll maintenance and breaking it up into sections to make it a bit more user friendly. To begin with three blogs - The Passenger, Al Jahom's Final Word, and Is There More To Life Than Shoes - are going to be moved to the Red Dwarf stasis room since they appear to be in suspended animation already. Beyond that I'm not yet sure what shape things will take but expect some quietness around here for few days while I nut it out.

Unless of course I see something in the news that upsets me, in which case expect a torrent of bad language before a slide into a sullen silence.

Orphans of Liberty

Since I've been kindly invited by the Orphans of Liberty group blog to contribute some of my ranting I've cross posted several of my recent posts there I'm going to add their rather nice logo in the sidebar as a convenient link to the site. I was toying with the idea of doing that anyway instead of just relying on the blogroll link. I'll also be adding a smaller version at the beginning or end of anything I post here that has appeared or is going to appear over at Orphans of Liberty. It may change slightly as there has been some talk of minor adjustments to the design but it should still be pretty easy to spot.

A penny saved is a penny earned

You could be forgiven for thinking that the federal government here in Australia have taken that old maxim to heart for our latest budget. Purse strings are to be tightened, cuts are to be made, benefits frozen all in order to get back into surplus in FY 2012-13 to the tune of $3.5 billion dollars.

Just as an aside at this point, I'd like to ask if anyone in the Cobbleition has any idea to get Britain back into surplus? Dave? Nick? No? Er... Ed and Ed? No, you've already tried spending even more, remember?

Anyway, among other things Treasurer Wayne Swan has said he's done is to achieve a budget which is free of rorts - 'rort' being Australian for spunking taxpayers' money up the wall unnecessarily, generally in such a way as to let a bunch of chancers cash in and run off with most of it. The word may not be familiar to readers in Britain or other parts of the English speaking world but I'm pretty sure the concept will be. The fact that Australians have a special word for it is probably a testament either to their inventiveness when it comes to language or the incompetence of the country's politicians, perhaps both. The last really big rort was one I blogged on just over a year ago - the home insulation program in which home owners were offered government grants to have roof insulation batts, typically pink for some reason, installed in their lofts. This was such a good example example of government intervention going catastrophically wrong on many levels that you can practically make a politician flinch simply by saying the words "pink batts".
The government men indeed came to help with 'handouts', and when they were finished 'helping' cowboy fitters had pockets full of taxpayer's cash, hundreds of thousands of Australian homes ended up with substandard, badly fitted or simply unneeded loft insulation, more than a hundred houses were damaged by fire, thousands of jobs were put at risk and four deaths had been linked to the programme.
Under the Home Insulation Program the assistance is paid directly to the insulation installer, on behalf of the Householder, and $1,600 is expected to cover the cost of insulating an average home, so for most people there should be no more to pay.
The first thing that should have been expected from this is that many smaller jobs would now come in at around $1,600 regardless of size. The second is that having created an artificial boom in the supply and fitting of insulation it's natural that new companies would jump in to try and grab a share of all the taxpayer's money being hosed around. This is fine if the demand created by a subsidy becomes self sustaining, and I'm sure the wonks in Canberra hoped that this would happen, but if that doesn't occur by the time a subsidy scheme ends then suddenly, almost overnight really, the market is oversupplied.
[The third and most serious problem is] that whenever the government gets out its chequebook almost inevitably cowboys and fraudsters are attracted in the hope that the government is too busy giving away taxpayers' money to look too carefully at the work it was supposed to pay for. Sure enough the Home Insulation Programme, despite supposed safeguards such as a government approved list of companies, saw everything. There was the merely deceitful, such as falsely telling people that insulation batts need to be replaced periodically. There was the fraudulent, such as submitting claims to the government for non-existent work. And there was the downright dangerous: fires blamed on ceiling downlights igniting the insulation and even whole roofs becoming electrified because of badly installed foil insulation.
This was all horrifyingly embarrassing for the government at the time, which despite an election and a change of faces at the top is still more or less the same government we have now, and which is therefore promising that there won't be anything like that happening with this budget. Oh, no, nothing like that at all. Well... apart from this:
COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy has defended the massive cost of installing television set top boxes in the homes of pensioners.

He admitted it would cost taxpayers $350 per installation and that each box would cost just $50-$60, double the cheapest available in electronics stores.

"We make no apologies for helping pensioners through this difficult transition," he told Sydney radio 2GB this morning.

Mr Conroy said the whole country would benefit when the analog television spectrum was switched off and sold off.
No, Stephen, the country will be down the $308 million you and Wayne Swan have budgeted, because you can be damned sure that there are people out there planning to grab every last cent. Just think: one in the morning, one in the afternoon, $700 for a day's work installing - and having been the proud owner of a couple of set top boxes I'd say the word 'installing' for sorting out up to six but possibly as few as just one cable and plugging the bloody thing into the main is seriously gilding the lily [corrected thanks to commenter Dave pointing out that lilies do not in fact glide - AE] - two set tops boxes bought by the federal government for twice the going rate. If you can keep that up for 8 months you're looking at the thick end of a hundred thousand dollars of taxpayers' hard earned filling up your pockets. It'd be nice for someone to tell me this scenario is way off base but unfortunately we really don't know because the politicians refuse to tell us the specifics.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's office said yesterday the package cost about $350 per person, but his spokesman declined to provide a breakdown of labour, equipment and administrative costs, saying it was "commercial in confidence".
However, they are promising that it won't be pink batts all over again, mainly because the Opposition are saying it will be just like pink batts all over again.
"I will never apologise, never apologise for supporting our pensioners," he said of the program, to install $30 set top boxes at a cost of $400 each.
Mr Swan said the scheme had already been rolled out to 38,000 pensioners and was running well.
"There's a tender process that is gone through. There are accredited people who not only provide the box, but set it up and work with the household to make sure it works," he said.
Oh, accredited people, the answer to everything. Except of course it's no answer at all to the question of why it's necessary for the government to do it at all, let alone spend as much as $400 per person on what would probably come in for well under half that even if people paid someone to install the box and far less if they simply read the instruction book that comes with the box. The way I see it is that it's not a government function to go buy our electronic goods for us, and if it thinks it can afford to do so then it's clearly taken more than it needed in taxes and should simply give the money back for people to do with as they will.

However, in fairness to the Labor government I feel I should defend them against the Opposition's charge that this is just like the pink batts rort because there's an important difference. It's not likely that any deaths will end up being blamed on this, not even if the specially accredited installers leave a box turned on to a special 2 hour long edition of Million Dollar Drop.

Greenpeace: not a charity, and that's official

Or at least it isn't in New Zealand where the not-a-charity-really-a-political-lobbying-group has just lost its charitable status there and been told by a court that they are in fact, well, not a charity but really a political lobbying group.

Watts Up With That has more. All I have to say is that it's high time someone somewhere recognised Greenpeace for what they are today rather than what they used to be. Oh, and one other thing:


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Apropos of nothing


If you will not be turned, young Skywalker, you will be destroyed!

Monday, 9 May 2011

Funniest idea evah!

The person on the left bumping uglies with the person on the right.


Not that I want to be cruel about it, but while I find Clarkson to be quite entertaining sometimes he’s not exactly got the physique that dissolves knicker elastic from across a room, has he? Not so much a sixpack stomach as a firkin, which is probably appropriate for a middle aged man who likes a glass of wine. Speaking as someone who could drop a few kilos himself Clarkson makes me look good, and since he clearly doesn’t give a rip about conforming with the health nazis’ demands for him to be the right shape and size fair play to him. But if he’s charmed his way into Jemima Khan’s pants that’s frankly astonishing and would force me to review nearly everything I’ve ever called bullshit on from wild theories about Bin Liner’s death through every 9/11 conspiracy idea, the Apollo moon landings being filmed anywhere other than the actual moon, 1+n gunmen in the JFK shooting, and every bit of every religious text including all the self contradictory stuff. Khan herself is saying it didn’t happen and there’s no injunction.

Except that I really don’t care much if it did and they have, and if it’s an old fling in the past it’s of even less interest. The use of super injunctions by slebs and pollies to cover up who’s shagging whom is a matter of great indifference to me. I really find myself physically unable to give a shit except for two points. First, since the subjects can’t be named it’s inevitable that there’ll be a lot of speculation naming various people, and equally inevitable much of it will be wrong. Take for example the identity of the mysterious and injunctified ETK, about whom we are told little more than that he’s an entertainer and a married father of two. Some parts of the web have said that ETK is absolutely definitely Clarkson and that there’s absolutely no doubt about it, having clearly missed the fact that Clarkson is actually a married father of three. Is he one of the others? Don’t know and frankly I don’t care – the point is that there are more names being bandied around than there are injunctions and therefore some are being accused of things they haven’t done. Better for there to be no injunctions so those who aren’t involved don’t get dragged into something they have nothing to do with just because gagging orders means that scatter gun speculation on the interwebs is about all that’s left.

Secondly, and rather more seriously than the impact on some sleb’s career/family/lunch or whatever, the existence of super injunctions at all allows the quiet burial of things that are far more important than who may or may not have done the horizontal tango with someone they shouldn’t have. Think back to the first one of these that made big waves, the Trafigura injunction preventing reporting of what was said in Parliament – fucking Parliament. Okay, it still had to be made available in Hansard but people don’t exactly check Hansard every day. We rely on others to report what’s going on there, and even an attempt to prevent that should have rung alarm bells. It was only poetic justice that that injunction eventually bought them a massive case of the Streisand Effect and millions of people who would otherwise have never heard of Trafigura not only became aware of them but also found out that they’d been dumping toxic waste in the sea off Côte d’Ivoire. Now, if some unnamed sleb can get an injunction so powerful that it prevents reporting any details of any kind, all just to keep readers of ‘Ullo! and OhChrist from having a gossip about them, what’s to stop a politician or a corporation with some dirt they don’t want coming out from doing the same thing?

The thought of Jemima Khan going reverse cowgirl on Jeremy Clarkson seems as unlikely as it is unappealing, but at the end of the day if it actually happened then it’s something that really doesn’t affect anyone else beyond their immediate families. But the thought that another Trafigura could use the same legal device to cover its arse is a good enough reason for these super injunctions not to exist at all.

Unintended consequences of anti-tobacco zealotry

The Big Pharma sponsored anti-tobacco crusaders have had a couple of their ideas bounce back at them in the last few days. First is the news that the fact that no smoking signs actually outnumber smokers, or at least seem to what with laws requiring them to be put up just about everywhere imaginable, may actually be encouraging people to smoke. Remember this bit of TV from a few years back?

Partcularly the bit where he says that you immediately think of a black cat when someone tells you not to think of a black cat. Well, it seems that the no smoking message being plastered on every available surface is having a similar effect.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Democracy's nasty secret

It's been said often enough - democracy is the worst possible system of government apart from all the others, it's two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner, it's the tyranny of the majority or in Britain, as I've seen pointed out on several blogs, it's even a tyranny of the minority. We got a reminder of that earlier this week from Max Farquar's drawing attention to Nadine Dorries' Sex Education (Required Content) Bill.
A Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.
Which is probably what you'd expect from a god botherer who's found the bit in the Bible that says 'Thou shalt not enjoy a good shag' - which I think I must have missed what with all the other sex and violence in there - but given her unusual definition of what was her main home for expenses purposes may have overlooked the bit in Exodus which says 'Thou shalt not raise a false report'.*

Normally I'd suggest going and reading the post but Max has included a YouTube clip of Nadine's dribbling introduction of the Bill without much in the way of health warnings about how much brain damage you'll get from listening to it. You can read it in Hansard if you prefer or just take my word for it and don't play the clip. In any case it's not needed for Max's main point, which is that while this demented hypocrite was introducing her Bill for yet more fucking It's-All-For-Your-Own-Good legislation nearly 520 MPs chose to be somewhere else.**

Perhaps they'd all heard Nadine speaking before?

That meant that in the end only 128 MPs voted on Mad Nad's Bill and it ended up passing by 6 votes. Yes, sure, it's only a Private Members' Bill and very few of them ever make it all the way to Mrs Queen's in tray for her signature, but the point is that yet another bit of nannying passed its first reading with the support of 67 MPs - barely 10% of them. And that's not the end of the bad news because I decided to take a look at those 67 MPs to see how many people had voted for them.***

And the answer is that since more than half of them represent marginal seats - with majorities as lows as 54 some are very marginal indeed - between them they polled only 1,495,459 votes last May. That is just barely over 5% and even then assumes that every last one of those 1,495,459 votes were from people who voting for those candidates. In reality we know that there are a lot of people who would vote for the bullet ridden, fish bitten, decaying corpse of Osama Bin Liner if someone stuck their favourite colour rosette on first, while others, I reckon especially in marginals, don't actually want the person they're voting for so much as they want to keep the main opponent out. How many is hard to say but from personal observation I reckon it could be as many a third, but even being conservative and saying, oh, a fifth, that makes five percent into just four. But let's say I'm being unfair and that it's really just a few thousand, the point remains that this latest bit of nanny statism passed its first Commons reading thanks to the support of barely a tenth of MPs who themselves had the support of less than a twentieth of the electorate.

And that, ladies and gents, is how a democracy works. It's not the tyranny of the majority and even the tyranny of the minority doesn't paint the full picture. Nope, it's actually worse than that. Democracy, at least as practiced in the UK, can mean tyranny of as few as five percent.

Shit, isn't it?

* Not kidding, Exodus 23-1, that's really what it says.
** That's allowing for a couple of tellers for each side and of course the Squeaker who only votes if there's a tie.
*** There's also a little bit of bad news for esteemed libertarian, anti-nanny stater and jewel thief, Dick Puddlecote. Sorry to break it to you, DP, but your blog mascot Philip Davies was one of the 67 who voted for this. You'd have hoped he'd advocate the same kind of personal responsibility and non-nannying approach he quite rightly takes towards booze and tobacco, wouldn't you?
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