Saturday, April 11, 2009

Another Ugly Duckling Becomes a Swan on Britain's Got Talent

UPDATE: The Beauty That Matters Is Always On The Inside (from The Herald )

Probably the best article on why so many of us are touched, and impressed, by Susan Boyle.

The Obama Holiday Tour

Op-Ed Columnist - The Obama Holiday Tour -

Right now we’re concerned with the fate of the kidnapped captain of the container ship the Maersk Alabama. Over the long haul, you also have to be disconcerted by the news that the crew of the Alabama thwarted the pirates’ attempts to steal the vessel itself by using strategies that one of the officers learned from his father, who teaches a course on how to repel pirate attacks at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Who knew that the academy curriculum includes pirate control? This is the kind of thing that makes you realize how important it is to have a president who is both a multitasker and well rested.

Exactly. Viva Obama!

The McBride Draper Dale Staines Story

There is a major blogging storm going on, which unusually for the UK has broken through to the mainstream media.

I'm finding it easiest to follow at Plato Says.

I do tend to think attacking Jacque Smith's expenses was doing the government more harm than this spat will. I suppose the thing is that Tory MP expense stories are going to be as bad.

Wouldn't it be nice to actually fight the next UK election on whether Government spending in the current, umm, financial crisis is a good idea; whether we should become more entwined with Europe or leave the EU; and how to restore civil liberties.

I see different sides on all these issues, and might even be tempted to vote Tory (although more prob Lib Dem) if the Tories took a strong stand on the specifics of restoring New Labour attacks on civic freedom.

What I am not interested is in who's putz has spots on it.

UPDATE: The story jumped the shark

Giles Fraser: The merciful crucifixion | Comment is free | The Guardian

Giles Fraser: The merciful crucifixion | Comment is free | The Guardian important it is for Christians to insist upon a non-sacrificial reading of the death of Christ. For too long, Christians have put up with a theory of salvation that has at its core the idea that God requires the sacrifice of his own son so that human sin can be cancelled. 'There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin,' we will all sing. The fact this is a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate, is obvious to all but those indoctrinated into a very narrow reading of the cross.

No, Jesus is not a blood sacrifice to appease a vicious God. The story is not an endorsement of the idea that sacrifice brings peace with God but an attack on it. 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' Jesus insists, going on to side with the scapegoats themselves. The Gospel is clear. I am with the hunchback. I am with the one cast out. He became one with the rejected and the cast out. And thus he suffered the same fate. This is not to endorse sacrificial theology but to condemn it."

Yet despite this clear identification with the victim, much official Christianity holds on to the sacrificial reading of Christ's death. The present pope has insisted that the Eucharist must be seen as a sacrifice rather than as a meal among friends, and evangelical Christians remain committed to their theory of Christ being sacrificed to offset human sin. Lord have mercy.

I sometimes a problem with this issue of substitutionary satisfaction. But neither am I willing to see the Eucharist as a meal with friends. The whole of Catholic tradition is that the mass is a sacrifice.

PETER OBORNE: Sorry, but a Tory election victory is far from certain

PETER OBORNE: Sorry, but a Tory election victory is far from certain | Mail Online

I don't usually like what Peter Obourne writes, but he more or less sums up where the British political parties are right now.

...many pundits say Cameron is a certainty as the next Prime Minister - being in a position similar to the one Tony Blair held all those years ago, in Easter 1996, a year before New Labour's historic election win in May 1997.

Indeed, the similarities between the two men's situations are striking. Back in 1996, Blair was a fresh-faced leader of the Opposition in his early 40s leading a rejuvenated party against a tired, incompetent and sleazy Government.

Cameron is in exactly the same position. Yet a Tory victory at the next election is by no means assured - and events in recent weeks have suddenly underlined precisely why Cameron still has much to do.

First, the G20 summit displayed Gordon Brown at his most formidable. Even the Prime Minister's enemies have been forced to admit he shows an admirable resilience. He refuses to concede the slightest admission that he is the discredited leader of an embattled Government.

While at Easter 1996, Blair faced, in John Major, a Prime Minister who was on the ropes, Brown shows no sign of defeat. Even his harshest critics - like me - must acknowledge that the G20 summit agreement, however dishonest, was a presentational triumph.

But the bigger worries over Cameron concern his personal leadership qualities. He has yet to command anything like the massive coalition of public support that Tony Blair was able to deploy. Many voters still feel suspicious of the Tories, and last week provided several examples why.

The first blunder came when Edward Garnier, the Shadow Justice Minister, called for the ban that Labour imposed on fox-hunting five years ago to be repealed. This is an issue about which many Tories feel passionately, particularly those who - like Garnier - represent well-off rural constituencies.

Yet fox-hunting is of almost zero interest to most people. Therefore, raising the subject merely reminds voters that many Tory politicians, including the party leader, inhabit a different social world to them.

Reforming the ban on hunting (which, incidentally, seems to be continuing as a sport regardless) should be at the bottom of the list of priorities of any incoming Conservative Government.

Then there is the public perception of what a Tory administration might do to reform the NHS.

Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP whose forensic assault on Gordon Brown in the European Parliament made world headlines last month, raised the prospect that the Conservatives might privatise the NHS. Hannan is a rising star and has been given a privileged speaking slot at the Cheltenham conference.

However, if Hannan continues to raise the spectre that the Tories may ditch the treasured principle of the NHS remaining free at the point of delivery to all who need it, he could single-handedly destroy all the Tories' election chances.

Finally, last week also saw an inept radio interview from Shadow Chancellor George Osborne in which he seemed to raise the prospect of the Tories breaking what had been binding commitments on public service pay.

This is especially important because the desperate state of the national finances means whoever wins the next election is bound to face key decisions about slashing public services. Osborne was right to broach this sensitive issue, but he did so in a maladroit way.

As a result of these potentially dangerous stumbles, it is still possible to see how the Conservatives can throw away the next election. Of course, when he eventually goes to the polls, Gordon Brown will present himself as the grizzled voice of experience, the only man with the administrative competence to save Britain from financial catastrophe.

He will also employ the very accomplished Labour propaganda machine (run by the same experts who assured Blair of his 1997 triumph) which will portray the Tories as a nasty, selfish faction lacking both experience and judgment.

Indeed, it is worth remembering that Blair won power for the third time in 2005 by exposing what Labour claimed to be a secret Conservative agenda when the Tories' Deputy Chairman claimed there might be more cuts to public services than his colleagues had admitted, and when another candidate spoke of the 'creative destruction' of the public services.

On current form, Cameron's Tories risk repeating history. His opinion poll lead is still fragile and a hung Parliament is perhaps the most likely outcome.

The School that runs Britain: An old boy explains why Eton is suddenly cool

The School that runs Britain: An old boy explains why Eton is suddenly cool | Mail Online

There are at least two views to take here. One is that the school is very impressive.

The other is that thinks aren't that good in Britain, so perhaps handing it over to an Etonian dominated Tory party may not be uch a good idea after all.

[What the Mail ignores in its list of Etonians are all those who dominate the Civil service.]

Friday, April 10, 2009

Least Appropriate Good Friday Food

Bacon Wrapped French Toast Sticks Stonehenge

Virginia Woolf to Blame for AIDS.

Senior Anglican lays society's ills at Virginia Woolf's door |

Mr Phillip Jensen, Anglican Dean of Sydney, told AAP on Friday he sympathised with Cardinal Pell's views on promiscuity, but did not believe condoms alone had made society more promiscuous.

'In terms of adultery, in terms of divorce, in terms of grandchildren, yes we are in big trouble as a society because of the sexual revolution,' he said.

'It came out of Virginia Woolf and that crowd (in England in the early 20th century).

'It's a century-long movement that has happened.

'In my view, it's a disaster. It has ruined lives. It is ruining our society.'

There are nutters everywhere, it seems.

The Cannabis Closet

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Andrew has been posting a great series of post in which his readers come out of the "Cannabis Closet." Some have been moving, a few scary. I find this the funniest so far.

I'm in my mid twenties, and a PhD student at the Ivy League university located in the hippie town of Ithaca, New York. When I came to the United States a little over three years ago -- I was born and raised in the Netherlands -- I had never tried smoking weed, despite it being readily available. American friends of mine (fellow graduate students) introduced me to it and thought it was hilarious they were teaching the Dutch girl how to use a bong -- the same Dutch girl who used to ask tourists looking for the nearest coffee shop, 'Do you want a cup of coffee or a joint?'

It is weird not being able to talk to many people about weed, especially in a liberal town like Ithaca, for fear of risking my chances of ever getting American citizenship, or being send back to Pot Heaven Holland.

I hope for her sake there are lots of female Dutch Ph.D. students at Cornell!

The Alligator: The War on Condoms

The Alligator: The War on Condoms

The Pope’s comments that the distribution of condoms “increases” the problem of AIDS caused a media and diplomatic storm across the globe. In an investigation spanning three continents, Mike Webb spoke to the world’s foremost Catholic theologians and AIDS scientists to discover why the Pope said what he did, and whether the latest research might, controversially, support his claims.

It's an interesting article, although I don't really agree with it.

First, the argument is based on a general social assessment (which may or may not be accurate). In any give individual sex act, condoms without doubt decrease HIV transmission. Given the usual laserlight concentration on individual acts in Catholic teaching this really does seem odd.

Second, neither he pope nor the theologians questioned in the article address the use of condoms by gay or MSM men. Here the evidence that using condoms reduces transmission is clear.

In fact, or at least as far as I can see, the best (i.e. most effective and realistic) way to stop HIV transmission in the is to provide early and complete Anti-Retroviral treatment since people with non-detectable viral loads are massively less likely to transmit the virus whatever they do sexually. Equally useful would be to promote male circumcision, as the skin growth over the exposed glans penis seems to provide real protection.

On a wider level Catholic theology of sex is still caught up with its Platonic notion of finality. This seems to me to be mistaken: sex between lovers achieves its goal immediately in the human connection made, not through some quest for immortality. I do acknowledge that a lot of actual sex would be deficient either way.

Immigrants and Judges

Judge orders foreign criminals to be deported... then spots them walking streets just months later | Mail Online

Judge Peter Jacobs said the Home Office had improved but still had much to do when it came to removing foreign criminals from the UK.

He said he was frustrated and angry after repeatedly recommending immigrants for deportation - only to spot them in the centre of Norwich months later.

Judge Jacobs spoke out as he jailed a West African woman who had lived and worked illegally in Norfolk for seven years.

He sentenced Jessica White, 22, for 10 months and ordered for her to be deported when she is released.

He told Norwich Crown Court: 'The reality is the Home Office is better than it was but they don't keep a proper take on these things.

'I and my brother judges recommend people for deportation and then we walk along King Street or London Street and see them a few months later.'

'In this case we will have to wait and see.'

Liberian-born White admitted possession of a false passport and entering the UK without leave in 2002. She was arrested after a fracas in her home in Attleborough, Norfolk.

The woman seems to have have had a hard life, to have worked hard here, and to have been involved in just a minor fracas. For that, the Judge is going to destroy her whole life and social network?

What wicked men some of these Judges are. When it comes to a final judgement, I think Judge Jacobs and his kind are going to find it pretty hard going when faced with God's love for all people.

Good Friday

This icon was drawn in the New York of the 1980s (notice the twin towers in the background), and it illustrates Jesus, like the Isenheim altar, as having this physical signs of disease of those who call upon him. AIDS does not usually manifest itself like this anymore - in the scars of Kaposi's Sarcoma. But the image remains powerful.

Good Friday

Edited from Wikipedia

The Isenheim Altarpiece is an altarpiece painted by the German artist Matthias Grünewald between 1512 and 1516.

By far his greatest, as well as his largest work, it was painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar (then in Germany), which specialized in hospital work. The Antonine monks of the monastery were noted for their treatment of sufferers of skin disease, such as ergotism, symptoms of which are displayed by figures including the crucified Christ in the altarpiece.

Martin Pendergast: Catholicism is gay-friendly on the ground

Martin Pendergast: Catholicism is gay-friendly on the ground | Comment is free |

Proudly gay and proudly Catholic

Underneath the official condemnations, the Roman Catholic church is recognising the contribution that gay people can make

Two days after the 1999 Soho pub bomb, monthly Masses were launched at a Catholic convent in London, welcoming lesbian and gay Catholics, their parents and families. Unable to find a central London Catholic church, after the convent's closure, LGBT Catholics found hospitality at Soho's Anglican parish church. Increasing numbers resulted in the Masses being held twice a month. While the Diocese of Westminster might have believed that the group would fade away, it recognised that real pastoral needs were being met, converts to Catholicism were being made, and a vibrant community could offer something to the local church. In March 2007, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor invited the Soho Masses LGBT community, in contact with around 300 people overall, to transfer its services to one of Soho's Catholic parishes.


New York church to tweet Passion of Christ | World news |

New York church to tweet Passion of Christ | World news |

What would Jesus tweet? We're about to find out. Wall Street's Trinity Church, in New York, is to use the microblogging site to recreate Christ's final hours in a Twitter version of the Passion Play. Followers of twspassionplay will get updates from the main characters of the play for three hours starting at 5pm today.

The church describes the project as a 'unique Passion Play that marries this timeless Christian tradition with the latest in social networking trends'. The response 'Jesus Wept' would fit into 140 characters with plenty to spare.

It's this kind of think that gives Anglicans a bad name.

Eric Hobsbawm: Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?

Eric Hobsbawm: Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next? | Comment is free | The Guardian

Good article.

Tony Blair Defends Gay People

Johann Hari - Archive

Because I was in the US during the Iraq war, I tend to see more of the positive side of Blair than most people with whom share political views. Apart from Northern Ireland, his government's support for gay rights was quite heroic.

Tony Blair - An Exclusive Interview
The Pope is wrong on homosexuality, he says

Tony Blair’s decade in power is seared with disappointments, but there is one cool, consistent success-story that ran through his time in power: the rapid advance of gay rights. If we had known in 1997 we would achieve full legal equality for gay people in Britain – including de facto gay marriage, military service, and a ban on discrimination – so fast and with so little fuss, we would have been startled. When I interviewed the former Prime Minister about gay rights last month to mark the 15th anniversary of Attitude, Britain’s best-selling gay magazine, I glimpsed his very best side – and the strange, gaping blind spots that did so much harm to his record, and the world.

Takedown of National Organization for Marriage's Anti-gay Ad

Via Andrew Sullivan

Anatole Kaletsky on Austrian Economics

Cast doubts aside, G20 is right to borrow and spend | Anatole Kaletsky: Economic view - Times Online

I really could not say this better.

Many financiers have been calling, instead, for a “market solution” based on the so-called Austrian school of economic analysis: the seemingly common-sense view that a crisis created by excess debt cannot be treated with further borrowing but must instead be cured by cutting back inefficient spending and investment and liquidating insolvent businesses, households and banks.

The upshot, in the words of Murray Rothbard, the leader of the Austrian school after the death of its founder Ludwig von Mises, is that “recession is a painful but necessary process by which the market liquidates unsound investments and re-establishes the investment and production structure that best satisfies consumer preferences and demands”.

One does not have to go into the economic details of this argument to see why it makes no sense. Even if Keynes had not refuted the economic logic of the Austrian position back in 1936 in his General Theory, their prescription could never in practice be applied. Since the 1930s, when Andrew Mellon, the US Treasury Secretary, famously urged President Hoover to “liquidate labour, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate”, no other government anywhere in the world has dreamt of doing anything of the kind.

Some politicians, such as Mr Cameron, have toyed with Austrian ideas while in Opposition; others, such as Ms Merkel, have used them as political slogans. But none has come close to putting them into effect. In fact, the strictest proponents of liquidation and austerity in response to financial crises have often presided over the biggest growth of public borrowing.

There are two reasons why austerity never works in response to financial crises — and is never seriously attempted, even by politicians who pay lip service to “liquidationist” Austrian economics or the libertarian market fundamentalism of Ayn Rand.

The first is fiscal accounting. A collapse in economic activity devastates public finances, as we are seeing in Britain today. And once a nation gets into deep deficit, the only way to reduce deficits is to restore economic growth.

Even the most dogmatic theoretical proponents of Austrian economics, once they are put in the practical position of managing public finances, realise that cutting public spending or raising taxes during a recession will dig the public finances into an even deeper hole.

The second and much more important reason why austerity economics has never been tried in practice — at least since the 1930s — is politics.

In democracies, preserving living standards and jobs, protecting savings and keeping people in their houses, take a much higher priority than abstract Austrian arguments against preserving the Austrians’ “unsound production structures” or the burdens of debt on future generations.

And this is also true in dictatorships such as China or prewar Germany, which have generally attached an even higher priority to rapid economic growth and social stability — and have therefore been even more zealous in applying Keynesian remedies for economic downturns.

Politically, therefore, Ayn Rand’s idea of a capitalist economy run on strict free-market principles, with painful recessions allowed to run their course in order to liquidate the excesses of the borrowing booms, is pure self-delusion. Capitalism and private property would be swept away politically long before “liquidationist” economic theories could ever be put into practice.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Men's Underwear Sales, Greenspan's Economic Metric, Reveal Crisis

Men's Underwear Sales, Greenspan's Economic Metric, Reveal Crisis
As chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan was known for using quirky, proletariat metrics to judge the temperature of the economy. The most famous of these, as recounted by NPR's Robert Krulwich in January 2008, were the sales of men's underwear. If the economic scales dipped even the slightest, Greenspan reasoned, it was as sure a sign as any that people were truly feeling the pinch.

'If you look at sales of male underpants it's just pretty much a flat line, it hardly ever changes,' Krulwich recounted after the publishing of Greenspan's book, 'The Age Of Turbulence.' 'But on those few occasions where it dips that means that men are so pinched that they are deciding not to replace underpants. And [Greenspan] said 'that is almost always a prescient, forward impression that here comes trouble.''

The Anonymous Liberal: Pointless?

The Anonymous Liberal: Pointless?

The editorial board of the National Review, the flagship publication of the American conservative movement, has weighed in on the recent developments on the gay marriage front. As one might expect, the editorial reflects both the factual denialism and the narrow-minded callousness that has come to dominate conservative opinion on this issue. First, the Editors deny that public opinion on gay marriage is changing.


The Daily Mail decided to go after Bono's Moobs.

When I commented thus, however, all I go was an error report.

Could we have some discussion of why the British born and residing Viscount Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, claims to be non-domiciled for tax purposes, and runs the Daily Mail's profits through off shore trusts so as to avoid tax?

I mean, that seems more important than Moobs?

what do no Tory bloggers pick up on what Private Eye has been publishing for weeks?

Hollywood lies about WW2; do they matter?

Times Archive Blog: Hollywood lies about WW2; do they matter?

As Ben Macintyre writes today, The Great Escape is probably the best-known example of a Hollywood habit which has infuriated Brits almost since the war ended - hijacking engagements involving British, Indian or Commonwealth troops to make Americans into the heroes.

This is just The Times being silly.

Of course only the US fought alone in WWII, the USSR provided no help at all, Americans decoded German submarine codes.

And the Canadians? Huh, where is Canada?

More on Austrians

BG Prior made a number of comments on my Austrian Economics and RFID

A few comments by me.

I don't see why the imprudent are more deserving of our intervention than the prudent?

I don't think Capitalism rewards the prudent and imprudent, it rewards the lucky and punishes the unlucky.

As I have said elsewhere, I am on the side of the "runts".

You're proposing the replacement of markets by computerised economic planning, aren't you?

I am suggesting that this is already happening, that is its taking place in the private sector just as much as the public sector. In fact, it's being pushed by private companies who as institutions - unlike banks - have no intrinsic desire to see "free markets." While I have some real reservations about privacy, I don't thing this is a bad thing.

Austrians are betting that, on the whole, (a) he will guess what will increase his utility more often, more accurately than would a government-agent or computer making the choices for him, and (b) that even if he were so useless that an agent could make better choices for him, he would value his freedom sufficiently to prefer to make his own mistakes than have them made for him.

This may or may not be true. It's a metaphysical rather than a scientific statement.


Personally I think markets are destructive of happiness and the environment. They tread on families and create false ideas about status and wealth.

Once the world can been organized in such a way - by IT if necessary - that everyone is fed, clothed, housed, given medical treatment, and access to education in a sewage-free sustainable world ecology. If all that can happen, I am then quite prepared to let some people choose between Prada and Versace handbags.

Until them, I think a well planned economy will produced the shared wealth better.

Ignore the Tories. You can't cut your way out of a slump

Seumas Milne: Ignore the Tories. You can't cut your way out of a slump | Comment is free | The Guardian

Amid news of a calamitous fall in industrial production and improbably premature claims of green shoots of recovery, siren voices are warning against any further spending boost in this month's budget. Short of much else useful to say about the crisis, David Cameron's Tories are clamouring for cuts - starting with the pay of nurses, teachers, firefighters and other public sector workers who, as we are now led to believe, have been living the life of Riley while the corporate world has scrimped its way through the New Labour years.

Good article

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder

Iraq’s Newly Open Gays Face Scorn and Murder -

BAGHDAD — The relative freedom of a newly democratic Iraq and the recent improvement in security have allowed a gay subculture to flourish here. The response has been swift and deadly.

In the past two months, the bodies of as many as 25 boys and men suspected of being gay have turned up in the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City, the police and friends of the dead say. Most have been shot, some multiple times. Several have been found with the word “pervert” in Arabic on notes attached to their bodies, the police said.
In recent months, groups of gay men have been taking greater chances, gathering in cafes and other public places in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and other cities. On a recent night in Sadr City, several, their hair parted down the middle, talked as they quietly sipped tea at a garishly lighted cafe, oblivious to the stares of passers-by.

Basim, who would not give his last name out of fear for his safety, said he knew at least 20 young men from Sadr City’s large but hidden gay community who had disappeared during the past two months. He said he had learned later that each was found dead. After three of his friends were killed, he stayed inside his house for a week. Recently he has begun to go out again.

“I can’t stay at home all day,” he said. “I need to see my friends.”

Publicly, the Iraqi police have acknowledged only the deaths of six gay men in the neighborhood. But privately, police officials say the figure is far higher.

Free-access World Digital Library set to launch

Free-access World Digital Library set to launch | Books |

Libraries and archives from around the world have come together in a project to share their collections of rare books, maps, films, manuscripts and recordings online for free.
As well as documents and recordings, the digital archive will also feature videos from curators explaining why they are important and what they reveal about a culture, and the option to translate material into different languages. Users will be able to browse and search by place, time, topic and type of item, with material to also include musical scores, prints, photographs, architectural drawings and other significant cultural materials.

Tom Robinson, 1979

...seems to fit various of this week's stories in different ways.

A new path for Europe

Jon Cruddas and Andrea Nahles: A new path for Europe | Comment is free | The Guardian

For 30 years our democracies have offered only one vision: a society governed by markets and profit. We are making a new politics of the democratic left in Europe.

Austrian Economics and RFID

One of my correspondents (RG Prior) responded to an earlier post on money.

You don't appear to provide any reason to disregard Austrian economics, or to dismiss Mises.

Well, I think it is inhuman in the political policies it promotes, fails in understanding humanity, and fails even to understand that its practical proponents (i.e. conservative politicians) will not hold to such non-populist policies.

This, and the suggestion that IT systems will be able to read people's minds and predict the impact of innovation within 10 years sufficiently accurately and frequently that they will enable effective economic planning and the ditching of markets, indicates that you put dogma ahead of reason.

Not really, because I am in fact worried about the sheer amount of individual tracking that goes on already in our economies. In other words, not dogma, but reasonable prediction.

But, first of all, on the harder question. There is less and less social science proof that people have individual free will. Even if they do, the variety of what is willed is within very narrow limits. I agree that people may naturally have a higher choice range than older soviet central planning could account for, but on a mass level RFIDing goods, tracking credit card spending, etc. is giving organizations like Walmart an essentially "planned" approach to its internal economy. Hell, we even know people will buy more iced yogurt if it's placed in the middle shelf of the last aisle in a supermarket.

I think these IT changes already well under way, will make talk of "reading peoples minds" irrelevant. IT will not read people's minds, it will predict their economic behaviour.

In other words I think the economic calculation problem will be solved by modern IT (and its predictable developments) in a way that makes the eighty-year old theories of Mies and Hayek just a matter of historical interest.

I'll tell you what. 10 years is soon enough that there's a decent chance both of us will still be alive. What shall we wager that IT systems with those capabilities are ubiquitous within that period?

Of course, we will need to come up with some tests by which this can be judged. Something like the Turing test, but demonstrating mind-reading and predictive capabilities rather than the ability to convince a human of the respondent's humanity?

Well since, by my current calculation I have been HIV+ since 1985, I really doubt I will be around ten years hence.

But we will see in any case that I am not predicting mind reading technologies within ten years. I think such technologies will be available in 30 years or so, and I find that quite as frightening as anyone else.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Flanders Goes Gay

Via Andrew Sullivan

VICTORY! Vermont votes for marriage equality!

VICTORY! Vermont votes for marriage equality! � HRC Back Story

BREAKING: Moments ago, the Vermont House voted 100-49 to override the marriage bill veto! The House vote, which followed the Senate voting 23-5 this morning to override Gov. Douglas’s veto, means that Vermont becomes the first state to OK marriage equality through the legislative process.

Today Vermont joins Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa in allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.

This has been an amazing week for advances in marriage equality for lesbian and gay people.

*Two US states have legalized same sex marriage (Iowa by judicial decision, Vermont by super-majorities overriding a veto in both houses of its legislature).
*Washington DC has agreed to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
*Sweden has legalized same-sex marriage (by legislative action).

That's four political units in one week.

At this stage, we need to campaign for full marriage equality in the UK.

[See Wikipedia; Same Sex Marriage for the roll-call of honour].

Obama Derangement Syndrome

FrontPage Magazine

Obama Derangement Syndrome
By David Horowitz | Monday, March 30, 2009

I have been watching an interesting phenomenon on the Right, which is beginning to cause me concern. I am referring to the over-the-top hysteria in response to the first months in office of our new president, which distinctly reminds me of the “Bush Is Hitler” crowd on the Left.

Speaking of this crowd, have you seen any “I am so sorry” postings from that quarter as Obama continues and even escalates the former president's war policy in Afghanistan and attempts to consolidate his military occupation of Iraq?

Experts begin to translate over 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning walls of Alhambra palace in Granada

Experts begin to translate over 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning walls of Alhambra palace in Granada | World news | The Guardian

One of Spain's most enduring historical mysteries is close to being solved as experts decipher and translate more than 10,000 Arabic inscriptions adorning the walls of the Alhambra palace in Granada.

The intricate Arabic inscriptions carved into the ceilings, columns and walls inside the imposing hill-top fortress have long fascinated visitors. They contain everything from snatches of poetry and verses from the Qur'an to clever aphorisms, pious wishes and boastful slogans.

There are so many of them, however, that nobody has ever managed to study each and every one. Now a team of researchers armed with 3D laser scanners and digital imaging software is slowly working its way around the complex recording, transcribing and translating every inscription.

On the Other Hand - The Tories are Toffs

<-George Osborne

1) Sebastian Grigg
2) David Cameron
3) Ralph Perry Robinson
4) Ewen Fergusson
5) Matthew Benson
6) Sebastian James
7) Jonathan Ford
8) Boris Johnson
9) Harry Eastwood

The Bullingdon Club

Bullingdon Club dinners were the occasion of a great display of exuberant spirits, accompanied by a considerable consumption of the good things of life, which often made the drive back to Oxford an experience of exceptional nature". A report of 1876 relates that "cricket there was secondary to the dinners, and the men were chiefly of an expensive class". The New York Times told its readers in 1913 that "The Bullingdon represents the acme of exclusiveness at Oxford; it is the club of the sons of nobility, the sons of great wealth; its membership represents the 'young bloods' of the university".
The Club's modus operandi has often been to book a private dining room under an assumed name, as most restaurateurs are wary of the Club's reputation for causing considerable drunken damage during the course of the dinners. However, it depends on the character of the membership at the time — which necessarily varies from year to year — whether the famous 'destruction' is an intentional act of wanton vandalism or a side-effect of drinking prodigious quantities over a lengthy period of time.

Labour Talk on Aspiration

Another reflection on Tom Harris' Blog.

I think the language of "aspiration" is as pointless as the language of "stakeholders."

Sure we should make sure social mobility is possible, but in any society there will be some sort of Bell Curve of social position, and if for some "social mobility" is up, for others it will be down.

I happen to think general IQ measures something real. I do quite well in such tests. But I have to admit I do less well in "Emotional Q" and "Artistic Q". Value in society must derive from some combination of them all.

But if we accept general IQ as real, then we need to face the fact that, by definition, half the population has an IQ of 100 or less.

Our goal should be a society in which all people, of levels of ability can live satisfying lives, and not one where people are driven crazy "aspiring" to things they cannot every really achieve nor which will make them happy.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Why UK Healthcare is Better

There is still a lot of discussion on Tom Harris' Blog about health care, where a lot of people without US experience are attacking the NHS. I gave my account of the costs involved with even a minor health scare in the US.

What you find the the US is vastly more paperwork, which is why health care costs takes up a much bigger percentage of the GDP than here.

Let me give you the kind figures based on a real case.=:

Three years ago as part of a standard check up my (US) doctor discovered he could not do the pin-prick test for TB (since the BCG we all got at university here in the UK makes us positive). So I had to have an X ray - as a separate private radiologists office. That showed some little nodules in my stomach. So my doctor sent me back to the private radiologists office for a CAT scan. That caused enough worry that I was referred to a hospital oncology department. There I had two more CAT scans with a five week gap to check whether there were any growths.

As it happened there were none, and the nodules were probably there because I have been HIV+ (probably) since 1985.

The first thing you should note is that the medical care was excellent.

The second thing is that no one without insurance would possible get that level of treatment.

And then you need to know the costs:

I was billed (part to be paid my Insurance, a copay by me for)

*Four physicians visits

*For the X ray (around $400) and for the expert radiologists reading.

*$4000 (four thousand) each for each of the three CAT scans, plus bills from the Hospital for seeing me (the hospital bill), a separate nursing bill, a bill for the radiological consultation after 4 weeks.

Altogether around $20,000 (of which I was supposed to pay perhaps $16,000) and, since I could not afford that, innumerable dunning letters.

Anyone who things that the US has an efficient system needs to rethink.

And when it comes to how you feel, not only do you have to spend time worrying about having cancer, but how you are supposed to deal with the bills that come every day.

The NHS is simply better.

Money is a Myth

Iain Dale's Diary: We Have to Cut Spending & Cut it Now has a long discussion of the current Tory idea to just cut government expenditure.

My Take

What economic theory would recommend cutting spending in a recession?

In a lot of bloggers' commentary there seems to a belief that money is something real.

I think it is equally fair to see money as purely symbolic notation of value whose purpose is to manage not just the exchange of goods, but to introduce incentives into an economy.

What government policy is trying to do is to utilise this symbolic notation to bring about specific economic ends.

Actual academic economics is spectacularly unable to deal with the chaotic aspects of money, and actual political discourse is dominated by people who seem not to realise money is a system of symbols at all.

I would expect that within less than 10 years we will have the computing ability to make effective economic planning possible and ditch the drang und sturm of imaginary "rational markets."

Henry Porter: How government ministers are using the European Union to erode our internet privacy |

Henry Porter: How government ministers are using the European Union to erode our internet privacy | Comment is free |

Today, an EU directive comes into force which will compel all internet service providers to retain information from all emails and website visits. Data from phone calls and text messages will also be stored and made available to the government, its agencies and local authorities. Having seen how local officials have abused anti-terrorist laws, it's not hard to imagine the damage to privacy that will ensure.

These powers were brought in by a statutory instrument and so were not debated by either house. The accepted view is that the Home Office now bypasses parliament by lobbying Europe directly in the knowledge that the measures they desire will go undebated and unscrutinised, then be smuggled into British law as a European directive.

It's a shame. But would the Tories do anything differently?

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Following more discussion at Tom Harris' blog.

I do think the NHS could be improved. I don't like how its "consultations" are merely fronts for pre-agreed policies. I don't like that I had to loose two (back) teeth because of a millimetre too much below gum decay.

But "market" forces apply only in the crudest sense in terms of health care.

We have one of the best health care systems in the world. Perhaps the French, Germans or Dutch do better, but ours is a marvel.

I consider myself a socialist because I believe that human beings can choose, as members of large groups, to mitigate the sheer pain of natural life.

The way I look at it is this. I am a socialist (and an unrealist if you like) because I will always come out on the side of the runt.

Other people seem to be willing to let the runt die.


Imagine you are 17 years old, and you are sent out as substitute to play for the most famous football club in the world. At a sports arena so famous its called the "theatre of dreams". And the game is crucial. And in extra time you score the winning goal.

It's a high that can never be repeated. Guardian.

Just like the first time you take ecstasy :(

The American Spectator : The New Humanism

The American Spectator : The New Humanism

Roger Scruton:

Humanists of the old school were not believers. The ability to question, to doubt, to live in perpetual uncertainty, they thought, is one of the noble endowments of the human intellect. But they respected religion and studied it for the moral and spiritual truths that could outlive the God who once promoted them.

Thanks Frank

Independent Gay Forum - Not Even 40 Years Ago...

" November of 1971, the federal personnel office wrote this letter to Frank Kameny, the pioneering gay-rights activist (still going strong, btw), in response to Kameny's protest of the firing of a gay federal employee named Donald Preston Rau:

Frank Kameny is one of the most annoying gay men who ever lived. Any one who has met him will confirm this.

Thank God for Frank.

Healthcare in Britain and the USA

There is a discussion over on Tom Harris MP's blog about the Tory Daniel Hannan going on Fox News and damning the National Health service.

My response

I lived in the US for 20 years and always had top of the line health insurance. I have AIDS, and the insurance did pay for the care.

But it was employment related. If I lost my job (or resigned, in my case), I lost the "good" insurance. It is true that local programmes picked up the cost of medications, but if these failed, there was no one to pick up hospital costs.

But I was one of the lucky ones, because AIDS activists in the 1980s and 1990s have actually made the situation workable for People with AIDS. But God help you if you get cancer: if you are securely middle class you will find massive "co-payments", your savings destroyed; if you are poor you will only be given pain alleviation. I had one friend in Florida whose 48 year old mother (a non-drinker, not that it matters) had liver cirrhosis. Because she had no insurance, she could not even be put on a transplant list.

Insulin is not a prescription drug in the US, so that poor people with diabetes are supposed to be able to look after themselves with perhaps one visit to an ER or charity doctor in a year.

The sheer amount of fear about illness and the cost of treatment that affects all but the very richest Americans is vast.

And even when you do have insurance, the hospitals are not one jot cleaner or nicer than here.

The Evil Internet?

Henry Porter: Google is just an amoral menace | Comment is free | The Observer

If indeed a new era of global responsibility has come into being with measures that actually restrain banks and isolate tax havens, it may be time for the planet's dominant economic powers to focus on the destructive, anti-civic forces of the internet. Exactly 20 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the blueprint for the world wide web, the internet has become the host to a small number of dangerous WWMs - worldwide monopolies that sweep all before them with exuberant contempt for people's rights, their property and the past.

Henry VIII without Women?

Victoria Coren: Carry on like this, Dr Starkey - and you'll be history | Comment is free | The Observer

There is a buzz over on CIF about comments on the feminising of history made by a leading TV historian, David Starky.

Well done, David Starkey, well done. It worked. Last week, while talking about Henry VIII, you said: 'One of the great problems has been that Henry, in a sense, has been absorbed by his wives. Which is bizarre. But it's what you expect from feminised history, the fact that so many of the writers who write about this are women and so much of their audience is a female audience.'

You said this because you are promoting a TV series about Henry VIII and you thought you would wind up the feminists, flush them out to write irritably in the press and plug your show.

How are historians to remedy the silence about women in many traditional accounts of history? This question has received a number of distinct answers.

The first solution was to locate the great women of the past, following the lead of much popular historiography that focuses on "great men". The problem here is that just as the "great men" approach to history sidelines and ignores the lives of the mass of people, focusing on great women merely replicates the exclusionary historical approaches of the past.

The next solution was to examine and expose the history of oppression of women. This approach had the merit of addressing the life histories of the mass of women, but, since it has proved to be possible to find some degree of oppression everywhere, it tended to make women merely subjects of forces that they could not control. On the other hand, historians' focus on oppression revealed that investigating the structures of women's lives was crucial.

In recent years, while not denying the history of oppression, historians have begun to focus on the agency of women. All human beings are subject to some degree of social forces that limit freedom, but within those limits people are able to exercise greater or lesser degrees of control over their own lives. This insight applies equally to women even in oppressive societies.

Almost in all this discussion in CIF have focused on the issue on the theme of "great people" in history.

This is just simplistic.

Lets take a few, perhaps more helpful ways, of looking at the period of Henry VIII.

First it was a period in which for men *and* women, political power came from family and marriage. Henry VIII derived the limited dynastic legitimacy he had from his father's marriage. In his own life, his diplomatic power was enhanced in early years by his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, although in later years dynastic succession became important.

There is really not that much difference in how Henry got and maintained power - through descent and marriage - and the ways in which women of the period obtained power - such as Isabella of Spain, his own daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and slightly later Catherine de Medici.

Second, did Henry's reign alter the status of women. Economically many women were successfully active in running shops and businesses circa 1500, a period which represents a high point in wages and economic possibilities. For reasons that had nothing to do with Henry and a lot to do with either the influx of Spanish silver OR population increase, there was long term real inflation in the 16th century which reduced living standards.

What Henry's policies did do was severely limit some of the life choices and opportunities for agency of women. By closing down the monasteries and convents, Henry made marriage the only real goal for women, and destroyed literally hundreds of self-governing female religious communities.

On the other hand, the promotion of literacy by Protestantism may have helped a number of women access a life of the mind closed to them until that time.

There is every reason to consider women's history, and indeed the place of gender in history.

It would be fun to apply such considerations to David Starkey himself, but I shall refrain.

I maintain the Women's History Sourcebook to promote actively the idea that women's history is more than just about "great women".

Labourhome : NHS a 60 year mistake says top Tory

Labourhome : NHS a 60 year mistake says top Tory

NHS a 60 year mistake says top Tory

Dan Hannan MEP (remember him?), has been on Fox News this week (with the ever repugnant extreme right-winger Sean Hannity no less) espousing his belief that America shouldn't follow British-style 'socialised medicine' as it's such a 'failure' over here:"

This would not play well in a UK general election campaign.

So, what will Labour's election game plan be:

1. Push Brown as economically competent. This will work as long as the Tories look like snipers from the side.

2. Try to expose the "true side" of the "nasty party". This fails when Cameron is the focus, but is considerably easier with other Tory talking heads.

There is nothing else they can do, and personally I don't think this one-two punch will work in the face of mass disaffection for what is a visibly aging government and one which much of the educated left detest as much as the Tories.

The drizzle on Gordon Brown's parade

Andrew Rawnsley: Well done, Gordon. Now it's time to come back to earth | Comment is free | The Observer

The drizzle on Gordon Brown's parade came from David Cameron with his attempt to damn the summit with faint praise and imply that the G20 was a diversion from the travails of the economy at home. The Tory leader sniped that it was all very well hosting the world, but Britain needs some attention too.

That was a display of economic illiteracy by the leader of the Conservative party. Britain's fortunes are inextricably meshed with those of the rest of the globe. If the world stays in recession, it is not very likely that Britain is going to recover. Is David Cameron really such an idiot that he does not grasp that?

Cameron is the reason Brown still has a chance of limiting Labour losses at the next election.