Don’t Go!

Given a lot of the Yes campaigners’ rhetoric, it’s possibly not wise of me, an anti, to suggest to wavering Scots that they should read a blogpost by a pro-intervention Conservative MP in England, but, apart from someone’s friends-only Facebook update, this is the piece I’ve read about the independence vote, taking place today, that has affected me the most:

Mostly I feel a great sadness. It’s the second time in a year that I’ve been deeply troubled by a democratic decision, the last being the vote in the House of Commons not to take military action against Syria after its use of chemical weapons. But this event seems bigger even, and potentially far more damaging, than the shameful loss of resolve in our foreign policy.

And now I also feel dismay. Dismay that we’ve somehow, carelessly, let this happen. Dismay that our broken politics might now break the United Kingdom. Dismay—no, anger—that the people without hope on those council estates have been so let down by socialism that they genuinely see independence as a route out.

Nothing, nothing, has mattered more in my nine years as an MP, or for that matter in my lifetime.

Do please stay with us in the union, Scotland. If the United Kingdom were a boy/girl band, you’d be the fat talented one.

Moving and shaking

Just checking in with PooterGeek to update you on my real life.

In the day job, have moved offices in Tamworth from Tame Valley Industrial Estate in Wilnecote to space above designer wool and crafting outlet Tolsons Mill Yarns in Fazeley.

snapshot of Tolsons Mill Yarns Website

In the evening job, I am now the lead singer of Midlands Stevie Wonder tribute band “Songs In The Key Of Wonder”.

snapshot of Songs In The Key Of Wonder Website

Burning Down The House

This summary/graphic by Tim Montgomerie of The Times is fun. It imagines the four parties Britain would have if we started from scratch. If we did do such an experiment with voters—if we asked them about real policy choices—I don’t believe that these are the clusters would emerge; most people, especially English people, believe hotchpotches of things that, taken together, have little ideological coherence. It tends to be politics geeks and media commentators who a) can recognize an overarching political philosophy when they see it and b) think politicians should have one. Real people care about getting their bins emptied and worry less about the details of how or why.

The parties of the scorched Earth

The parties of the scorched Earth

Personally, I’d be a (practical rather than ideological) “(New )Liberal”—except for the bit about wanting the country to be more like London. The summary claims that the people running the country recently have mostly been New Liberals. But most of the parties’ current leaders are behaving as HotchPotchers, even if they aren’t HotchPotchers in their hearts. Since most of the parties are currently led by people who’ve done little in their adult lives other than study or practise politics, this is either strange—surely people who care so much about ideology would want one of their own?—or not strange—if your livelihood depends on persuading an electorate of HotchPotchers, that’s what you’re going to try to do and (appear to) be, regardless of your intellectual tastes.

Gratuitous YouTube video:

 

Avoiding identity theft

Here’s an excellent, concicse blogpost that outlines both how identity thieves can scrape sensitive information from your discarded computer and simple steps you can take to make it harder for them to do so.

Stealing someone’s identity doesn’t take a lot of intelligence or even a lot of effort. The bad guys only need you to trust them with your hard drive and a combination of bootable live disks [to] turn your financial and personal life into a living hell.

I use Boot And Nuke to scrub my old hard drives, then I drill physical holes in the overwritten disks.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Israel But Were Afraid To Ask

Levy and Counsell show logoAfter a summer break, another episode of International Edition with Levy and Counsell is up at Ricochet.com. [iTunes link to follow.]

Here’s the Ricochet blurb:

TV news shows often only turn up in distant countries when the shooting starts. This approach can scare off, or simply puzzle, intelligent and curious viewers who would prefer more backstory and less bullet-dodging. International Edition is back and Judith Levy and Damian Counsell begin this new season hoping to help intelligent and curious Ricochet listeners with this very problem.

This week’s edition the first of a series of Q&A format shows, where we hope to share our answers to your questions—and to use them as a starting point for wider discussion.The first is about the much misunderstood state of Israel and its place in the Middle East, with explanations direct from a real live Israeli who has studied the country and its relations with its neighbours from an academic, a political, and a personal perspective. She also knows a lot about the food.

In this podcast, Judith answers readers’ questions about the land of Iz. Sorry about the dodgy mix. By way of compensation, this episode opens with this classic exchange:

JUDITH: “It’s great to talk to you.”
ME: “It certainly is.”

That’s because I’m AWESOME.

A Femi-narcissist reader

Do read my previous post first!

And I should credit “Ban This Filth!” for the caption to the Laurie Penny tweet.

In addition to the Dan Hodges blogpost that I linked to at the end of that one, here are some other relevants articles worth reading that I couldn’t shoehorn in.

Here’s Mrs Trellis, writing a Dear Joan letter to feminism to explain why she’s taking some time away. I’m tempted to quote all of it, but here’s a hefty block:

You tell me I’m strong and that I can fight for myself. But when someone threatens me with assault online your reaction is that the forum used should be banned, or heavily restricted. My instinct is that toxic comments will die out when women in public life reach a critical mass and it simply isn’t possible to tweet rape threats to them all without getting RSI, but you say I’m too delicate and your responses deter other women from putting their heads over the parapet.

You tell me that I constantly have the risk of sexual assault hanging over my head. You regularly assume that this has happened to me—that I’ve been groped or propositioned on the Tube and it’s part of a woman’s experience. Well, I haven’t. You alienated me then. You said it was so ubiquitous, I found myself wondering why not me? Am I too ugly even for an anonymous grope? Too unapproachable to pester on public transport?

You tell me I can dress as provocatively as I wish, and I’m cool with that. But at the same time, feminism, you tell me that if I dress provocatively, have photographs taken for money and get those published in a magazine, I am responsible for “pornification”? That this “pornification” has caused an increase in sexual assaults, is destroying the futures of young girls and boys and sending this country to hell in a handjob? So instead you’ve suggested extreme, swingeing censorship, the like of which we’ve only seen before in repellent dictatorships like Iran or China: it’s for my own good, you say. Men can’t control themselves. That made me wonder if you’d listened to yourself during the slut shaming.

You say I can have sex with whomever I wish. But I am not permitted willingly to have sex with people in return for money. God forbid I should film this sort of business and sell these movies on, independently, to interested third parties. In fact, it’s best that such behaviour is utterly, utterly forbidden under any circumstances because, again, some men are slime and can’t control themselves. In absolutely no way whatsoever would this ban lead to anyone being maltreated or exploited, you tell me. No, you say, it’ll prevent that from happening in the first place – but I know you are ignoring the evidence to the contrary.

So, feminism, you’ve done a lot for me, but we are going to go our separate ways for a bit. I know it’s going to be sad for a while, but you have some growing up and some thinking to do. You need to focus on what’s important. You need to stop ignoring the revolting treatment of women in countries like Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. You need to understand that what makes women free is allowing us to have sex with whom we want, when we want–to dress how we want and have children when we want. That’s not a menu. You can’t pick and choose from it. We need all of it. You may not like some of it, but tough.

Here, God help me, is Brendan O’Neill correctly, I think, identifying the demographics underlying this recent silly season Twitter hysteria.

[M]ost of the recent controversies over insults and threats being exchanged on Twitter seem to spring from this unfortunate coming-together of two variants of lazy people-the leisured classes and the layabout classes. The most offensive tweeters seem to come from the studenty, unemployable end of Twitter’s time-rich population, whether it’s Liam Stacey, the racist student tweeter who was jailed for 56 days, or that 17-year-old bloke who harangued diver Tom Daley, or more recently Oliver Rawlings, the student who insulted Mary Beard. The Daily Mail has a picture of Rawlings “lounging on a boat in Marbella” and describes him as a student with a lot of time on his hands.

Meanwhile, the offence-takers—who often, it has to be said, take offence quite ostentatiously—come from the other time-rich section of Twitter, from the not-very-productive cultural elites who have in recent years almost completely decamped from the real world to the virtual world. So on Twitter we have happily time-rich people on one side and regretfully time-rich people on the other, well-off wasters of time versus less well-off wasters of time, and that is inevitably going to generate envy, spite, sometimes even malice, the exchange of hostilities. One side has all the time in the world to insult people it doesn’t know and thinks it doesn’t like, while the other side has all the time in the world to turn those insults into a big media issue and national campaign.

One recent example of femi-narcissism that I didn’t include in my earlier post is this minor classic of the genre, that could be summarized as “lad mags are to blame for my terrible taste in boys“. The comments are far better than the article—for example, this one:

Daisy, to blame lads mags for the failure of your relationship is ridiculous, and looks like you’ve done it solely to be topical. As someone that’s worked for one of the ‘less high end’ magazines you describe (but don’t name for some reason) for many years I can tell you that not once, ever, have we published a single joke that’s been at the expense of women, let alone a whole section like that every week. Promiscuous are never championed, at all. And sexually adventurous women never, EVER had their value diminished.

I actually doubt you’ve ever read a copy of Nuts, seeing as you’ve quoted an advertising line (incorrectly) that’s not been used since 2005. Why don’t you write a piece decrying the use of close-up photos of celebrity cellulite that the women’s weeklies thrive on? That’s what young impressionable women will be looking at. Or the ‘look at the state of her without make-up on’ pics in the likes of Heat magazine? How about Cosmopolitan, presumably you’re absolutely fine with this. Nothing like treating men as human beings when they fit in the ‘sexiest tennis players naked’ eh?

And interestingly you championed the ’50 shades of grey’ effect in your piece for The Guardian, a book about women submitting themselves sexually to men, and said you hoped it would have an ‘effect’ on teenage girls? As with most of the arguments over the past couple of days, this piece is riddled with hypocrisy.

And, for those of you wondering what Twitter looks like under a real patriarchy where the authorities really take Twitter abuse seriously, here (via Claire Berlinski and Susae Elanchenny is a clanky Google translation of a story about a popular Turkish actress having to report to the police to justify a tweet “insulting” the Prime Minister of Turkey.

The Femi-narcissists

At the height of the BBC’s “Jimmy Savile crisis”, when police were estimating that the old, dead child rapist and his associates had assaulted at least 40 boys, a female media twitterer tweeted that she had no sympathy for the BBC’s predicament at all, after the way they had blocked her promotion, because she was a woman, over years when she had been a TV executive at the corporation. For her, the aspect of the crimes under investigation most worthy of comment wasn’t the physical and mental suffering of scores of abused young people, male and female, but the way the BBC’s patriarchal culture had interfered with her career development.

Today, Laurie Penny, a opinionist for the Independent, shared this with us:

Laurie Penny: "It's all about me, buy my book to find out why"

Laurie Penny: “It’s all about me, buy my book to find out why”

And, this week, Stella Creasy, a Labour MP I used to have a lot of time for, said on Newsnight that the problem of spamalanches of threatening tweets—mostly generated by computer programs wielded by teenage boys—like those she had received for supporting feminist campaigns should be taken seriously by the authorities because her experience of abusive Twitter spam was “about violence against women”.

This is a material untruth—at worst, the most recent eruption of this not-even-slightly-new phenomenon is about the anonymous, impotent rage of pathetic young men—but it’s also sick-making—precisely because violence against women is a serious matter, and because no violence had been perpetrated or is ever likely to be perpetrated against Creasy or any of the other prominent successful female users of the free service who were referred to by name during the discussion.

Imagine if you were a female victim of domestic violence watching a powerful, professional, educated woman—with an income several multiples of your own, who could pick up a phone and summon police protection in moments—sit in chair worth more than all the furniture in your home, in a studio of the state broadcasting service. Imagine how you would feel when that woman tried on your battered skin in a public dressing-up game calculated to advance her political interests. Imagine how you would feel if you were a real feminist.

Another Zimmerman/Martin link

Thanks to Gaby Charing for this opinion piece from William Saletan in Slate:

Trayvon Martin is dead, George Zimmerman has been acquitted, and millions of people are outraged. Some politicians are demanding a second prosecution of Zimmerman, this time for hate crimes. Others are blaming the tragedy on “Stand Your Ground” laws, which they insist must be repealed. Many who saw the case as proof of racism in the criminal justice system see the verdict as further confirmation. Everywhere you look, people feel vindicated in their bitter assumptions. They want action.

But that’s how Martin ended up dead. It’s how Zimmerman ended up with a bulletproof vest he might have to wear for the rest of his life. It’s how activists and the media embarrassed themselves with bogus reports. The problem at the core of this case wasn’t race or guns. The problem was assumption, misperception, and overreaction. And that cycle hasn’t ended with the verdict. It has escalated.

Testing Storify

Zimmerman and Martin

As much for my own reference as anyone else’s enlightenment, here are four articles about the Zimmerman case that you might be better off reading than some of the hysterical, race-fixated nonsense in the media. That first link was to the Shooting of Trayvon Martin Wikipedia article.

These next two are from commentators who happen to be black—not that that should make any difference—both suggesting that some observers need to get a grip. The Left’s sad reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict is from Brett Wilkins in Digital Journal,

I used to think that irrationally emotional responses to lightning rod issues were more or less exclusive to the reactionary right.
Boy, was I wrong!

and On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin By George Zimmerman, from Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, is an enumerated list of Things Worth Thinking About. Here’s one:

I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eye-witnesses.

One other black commentator I am deliberately not linking to is the Guardian‘s indefatigably stupid Gary Younge, whose article written in the immediate aftermath of the verdict had to be taken down “pending investigation”—because Younge has yet to manage the endangered but legally important “investigate first; write second” tradition of journalism.

The last, George Zimmerman Is Probably Going to Walk, and That’s Not a Bad Thing is a more legally-minded essay that was written before the trial verdict:

Over the past two weeks, trial-watchers have seen a lot of things: bad jokes, anguish, rage, odd disparagement of Zimmerman’s physical capabilities. But there’s one thing we haven’t seen: a compelling, factual rebuttal to Zimmerman’s account of what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

I didn’t know and shouldn’t care what racial grouping Justin Peters belongs to, but, having now seen his byline photo, I would say: white-with-crazy-hair.

International Edition with Levy and Counsell Episode 12: Michael J Totten

This week, Judith Levy and I interviewed independent international correspondent Michael J. Totten.

Michael Totten, who has reported extensively from the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Sohrab Ahmari of Commentary wrote of Michael that he

"practices journalism in the tradition of Orwell: morally imaginative, partisan in the best sense of the word, and delivered in crackling, rapid-fire prose befitting the violent realities it depicts."

michaeltottenMichael’s work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic to Beirut’s Daily Star.

Levy and Counsell show logoHe is the author of The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against IsraelIn the Wake of the Surge; and Where the West Ends: Stories from the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus. He has also recently published a novel called Taken.

Michael talks with Judith and Damian about Syria’s descent into sectarian chaos, the American response to the escalating crisis, the Russian angle, and the Lebanese wild card. Join us for a candid and eye-opening discussion of one of the most dangerous hotspots in the world today.

Listen in above or subscribe in iTunes.

Direct link to MP3 file

Sexing down

Here’s an extraordinary thing: a documented cover-up by a US administration—not one imagined by conspiracy theorists:

There's new evidence, obtained by ABC, that the Obama administration did deliberately purge references to "terrorism" from accounts of the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic mission, which killed four people including the US ambassador to Libya.

Conservatives have long maintained that the administration deliberately suppressed the truth about the attacks.

This is the first hard evidence that the state department did ask for changes to the CIA's original assessment.

Specifically, they wanted references to previous warnings deleted and this sentence removed: "We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida participated in the attack."

There's little doubt in my mind that this will haunt Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president, unless she executes some pretty fancy footwork.

State department spokesperson Victoria Nuland is directly implicated, and the fingerprints of senior White House aides Ben Rhodes and Jay Carney are there as well.

Black and white

Republicans are certain to use the Benghazi affair against Clinton should she run in 2016

In the interests of full disclosure I have to say I have not in the past been persuaded that allegations of a cover-up were a big deal. It seemed to me a partisan attack based on very little.

I remember listening to reports from the BBC and others at the time that did suggest the attack in Benghazi was a spontaneous reaction to a rather puerile anti-Islamic video.

And here’s another extraordinary thing: gross editorializing by a supposedly impartial BBC employee:

I understand President Barack Obama's careful use of the word "terrorism" when it actually means something, rather than as a knee-jerk description of any violence by foreigners against Americans, often in order to justify a "war on terror".

But the evidence is there in black and white, unless we doubt the documents obtained by ABC, which I don't.

I hope Mark Mardell has relevant examples to support his implication.

[Thanks to Iain Murray.]

The opposite of scholarship

John Rentoul quotes India Knight:

Gove’s proposals are, to me, socialist in their intention, which is to equip every child with the sort of education that has traditionally been available to only a very few. How is that wrong? And what do left-leaning academics think they’re doing when they say, “Ooh, no, the children won’t understand any of it; it’s bad for them”? What? As bad as the fact that state-school students are still shamefully under-represented at our top universities?

Even if you don’t have a paid subscription to the Times online, it’s worth following the link to the original article that John Rentoul quotes, because anyone can read its opening paragraphs for free. In them Knight observes, as I often do, that quacks of educationalism write shocking prose. It could be that they are too dim, lazy, and dishonest to draft an open letter in good, plain English. It could be that ideology is the opposite of scholarship.

In related news, Gove has called the bluff of those who falsely accuse him of discounting evidence about educational interventions by commissioning Ben Goldacre to report on the potential for evidence-based educational practice.

Levy & Counsell podcast 4: National Manners, International Diplomacy, and Statehood at the United Nations

Levy and Counsell show logoOver at Ricochet.com, our producer Scott named this podcast The Politics of Petulance after an article of the same name by David Horovitz in the Times Of Israel that Judith and I mention towards the end of our discussion.

There are a few other sources I’d like to give credit to: Yau-Man Chan at Skepticblog writing about the curious cult of the Dalai Lama, this piece in The Economist about the squeezing out of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, this commentary by the Israeli ambassador to the US in the Washington Post. this post by Norman Geras at normblog about the crimes perpetrated by Hamas, and this piece by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, about the Israeli government’s latest expansion of settlements.

I’m happier with my performance in this episode than in the others; Judith is excellent as ever—she gets understandably passionate about the injustices done to Israelis by fashionable international opinion—and the audio and communication quality is the best I’ve heard it so far. Our listener numbers are down a little from the first episode, but I am pleased that we’re now getting rave reviews in the live chat and the comments. On the Internet, it’s easy to be Famous For Fifteen People; it’s harder, but more satisfying, to inspire fifteen people to mad enthusiasm.

If you left kind words or downloaded, thank you. Here’s a link to the Levy & Counsell show on iTunes.

The Levy & Counsell Podcast, episode 3: special guest Claire Berlinski

Claire Berlinski on the Levy and Counsell podcast

This is the first edition of the podcast that’s freely available gratis to people who don’t subscribe to Ricochet so fill yer boots. Judith and I just wound Claire up and let her run, though I did press her to come up with some hard, pragmatic reasons for the West (the US) to intervene in those areas of the planet where there is trouble right now.

Judith has already listened to the recording and pointed out that the conflict Claire and I refer to as the worst of recent time, measured by numbers of dead, isn’t audible. We were talking about the war(s) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

How to get work done at work

Just as TED talks are becoming the subject of well-deserved parody1, via Business Insider, I find an old one  (2010) with useful things to say. Here, Jason Fried suggests ways the office can become a more productive place.

I’m not entirely convinced by all of his solutions, but he doesn’t claim they are solutions. By the way, my answer to his original question is that, to really get a job done, I stay very late at work.

  1. This one about corporate social media bullshit is popular right now []

Levy & Counsell podcast 2: Special Edition

Levy and Counsell show logoJudith and I discuss current events in Israel for Ricochet.com.

The sound is better all round this time, though it’s clear I’m going to have to work on being a bit slicker. It’s possibly a good thing that I talk slowly out of a fear of saying something stupid. To quote one of our listners typing into the live chat during the broadcast:

“I find Damian’s voice reassuring because he always sounds unsure of himself when stating facts.”

Rulers and Riders

To try out my exciting multiple-choice plugin, test your knowledge of 18th-century British Prime Ministers and contemporary British competitive horseriders by guessing which of the two categories each of the following named individuals falls into.

Prime Minister or Equestrian?

You'll be presented with half-a-dozen names. You have to decide whether each is the name of an eighteenth-century British Prime Minister or a contemporary competitive horseman. At the end of the quiz your performance will be scored. Good luck!
Start

Congratulations - you have completed Prime Minister or Equestrian?.

You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%.

Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%


Your answers are highlighted below.
Return
Shaded items are complete.
12345
6End
Return

The first Levy & Counsell podcast at Ricochet.com

Oh the irony. My contribution to the first (test) Levy & Counsell podcast as token friendly Lefty at online US conservative community Ricochet.com was marred by technical problems. Even I find it hard to follow the thread as I listen to this because my audio breaks up and I speak even more slowly and haltingly than I needed to to be understood. Entire Presidential terms elapse in the gaps between my words. But, no doubt thanks to Judith’s fluency and clarity, Ricochet liked it enough that we will return in two weeks with another.

portraits of Judith Levy and Damian Counsell

In this episode, it was inevitable that we would discuss the result of the US Presidential election, me from a statistical point-of-view and my old friend Judith Levy from Israel’s perspective.

There’s a special offer on now, so get yourself a Ricochet subscription and sign up for our podcast!

“He’s quite a gay dog with the ladies.”

Via Kellie Strøm, this is a delight:

Dancing about architecture

There is a small, ugly overlap between the kind of people who complain about reduced state funding for the arts and education in the UK and the kind of people who excuse the burning of books, advocate the closure of places of learning, attack performances of classical music, and disrupt debates in bookshops.

Outside this foetid sliver of life’s great Venn diagram, there are people like Eve Garrard. I recommend all of this post of hers at Norm’s place.

Nothing is timeless

I often grumble here that there’s no such thing as “timeless greatness” in art. Everything from subject matter to structure to execution to meaning depends on the circumstances that prevailed when a work was made. Indeed, if a work is published into another set of circumstances, it can escape its creator’s intentions completely, even without significant time having passed since it was first enjoyed. A piece that started as a private contemplation can mutate into a commentary on a catastrophic event that was unknown during its completion but that dominated the world of its release.

Today, I noticed two not-new commentaries on the way in which the format of music, the way a listener experiences it, defines both the way composers and musicians make music and the way audiences think of it after it has been made.

The first was The Birth Of 33⅓, a (too short) extract of the upcoming book 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story in Slate magazine, illustrated with (too small) photos of people like Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, and Aretha Franklin looking impossibly cool in recording studios.

My Fair Lady cast recording

My Fair Lady cast recording

You can read it like you would watch an episode of Mad Men, raising one of your eyebrows aloft using only the power of hindsight:

No less interested than Columbia in finding a solution to the problems in playing long-form musical pieces on 78s, RCA had developed a rapid record changer, which would allow listeners to stack a large number of records around oversized spindles above the turntable. The records, which played at 45 rpm, would then quickly and automatically drop to the turntable in ordered succession, creating a virtually uninterrupted flow of music. The goal was the same as that of CBS’s microgroove LP; RCA simply pursued it with a different technology. Now, rather than switch to Columbia’s long-play technology, RCA would fight.

The second was this recording of a design/architecture radio show from earlier this year, in turn quoting a brilliant snippet from recording of a talk by composer Jon Brion. In it, amongst other things, Brion explains why covers of Led Zeppelin are unsatisfying. He tries to impress upon his audience the important distinction between a song and a performance, he does this well: by performing snippets of songs.

If you are normally afraid of podcasts because the lack the concision and searchability of all the other stuff you graze on on the Net, then don’t be; if you’re a music geek, every second of this one is worth savouring—up until the show’s outro, obviously:

How to make drum solos interesting

‘Portrait of a Ghost Drummer’ expands the understanding of drummers activity from purely auditory experience to spontaneous visual performance. From technical point of view motion trajectory was captured on Vicon MX system and raw CSV files were translated into visual language in 3d environment Cinema4D.

Phonies

While I’m on the subject of ideologues ignoring facts, this thread over at the Website of the obnoxious Local Schools Network is both informative and entertaining, unlike the article that started it.

One of Andrew Old‘s contributions late in the debate says much of what I think about most quack educationalists in two paragraphs:

And now we are back to the usual situation where you are quoting opinion rather than evidence and hoping that if you keep doing it fast enough, and without answering direct questions, you can confuse matters enough for people to think there is some kind of controversy over the evidence, rather than simply between those who believe in empirical research and those who ignore it.

I know that people with pseudo-scientific beliefs do this a lot, but you must know that there are enough people looking at threads like this who know the actual evidence base and will point out that no amount of TES opinion pieces or Eurydice’s casual dismissal of the evidence, can actually change the facts.

Mistaken Identity

Tom Doran on why capitalism—I think he means free enterprise—has liberated working-class women:

When the average voter looks at Tesco, they do not see a sinister corporate megalith, raping and pillaging their way of life. Rather they see that keeping their family fed and clothed is now that much cheaper and easier. Moreover, they don’t believe this because they’ve been brainwashed into false consciousness by consumerist propaganda. They believe it because it’s true, which brings me back to the washing machine.

This single invention liberated countless millions from needless drudgery. Now take a look around you. When I do, I can see an electric light, a Dyson vacuum cleaner, a laptop computer, a blow-heater and a mobile phone. In all likelihood, you are also surrounded by a similar array of man-made objects. Each one represents the endpoint of a long process of winnowing, pruning and perfecting, driven entirely by the market. Even where government investment can get an idea off the ground, it still takes the forces of supply and demand to drive prices down and put once-miraculous developments within anyone’s grasp. Taken cumulatively, the fruits of capitalism have produced an improvement in quality of life that was once unimaginable.

This essential truth does not oblige those of us on the left to become uncritical free market fundamentalists. On the contrary: for all its genius, capitalism will continue by its very nature to have victims and losers, and they aren’t going to get any sympathy from the right (as the current government makes abundantly clear). Labour can and should be proud of the welfare state it did so much to bring into being. But we are obliged to recognise the facts. Namely that, for most voters, especially Labour’s core vote, the market is not a cold tyrant or a cruel exploiter. It is a liberator, perhaps the greatest in history.

Meanwhile, Yvette Cooper—she’s the Labour Party’s Shadow Home Secretary, remember?—has managed to get a sympathetic front-page spread today from the Guardian for a laundry bag of identity politics and lies.

Women over 50 are bearing the brunt of the government’s economic policies while often trying to cope with the increasing burden of caring for relatives, according to research carried out by the Labour party.

Since the coalition came to power in May 2010, unemployment among women aged 50-64 has seen a huge 31% increase to 142,000, compared with an overall increase in all unemployed people over 16 of 4.2% to 2.6m, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

In an interview with the Guardian on women’s issues before Saturday’s party conference, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the generation of women who fought for equal pay, improvements in childcare and maternity leave were being caught in a bind between caring for elderly parents and grandchildren at the same time as suffering from outdated workplace practices. “A toxic combination of sexism and ageism is causing problems for this generation,” she said.

Women as a whole have lost more jobs than men since 2010 (an estimated 11% increase) but women over 50 in particular have been hit hardest by the big cuts in local authority budgets.

The claims in that piece don’t stand up even to a casual fisking by (Economist journalist) Daniel Knowles:

The unemployment rate for middle-aged women is about 4%. For young men, about 20%.

Since 2010, unemployment for women aged 50-64 has increased from 3.5 to 3.9%. That’s not 31%.

I calculate it as a 17% increase in total, or an 11% increase in the rate. Guardian stats are wrong.

As a Labourite Sean Lynch points out on Twitter:

She’d have been better highlighting the 34.7% increase in over 50s women unemployed for over a year than making figures up.

This is the mystery. When the facts are on your side—or on the side of your own special interest group—and there’s no need to cook the books, why exaggerate?

Oh, here are some other statistics:

Estimated 2010 UK General Election Turnout by women aged over 55: 73%

Estimated 2010 UK General Election Turnout by men aged under 25: 50%

“Comment Is Free”: 1952 edition

Via Daniel Knowles on Twitter, where he is @dlknowles, I read this marvellous old letter to the (then) Manchester Guardian from one of its totalitarian about-to-be-ex- readers:

reader's letter to the Manchester Guardian 1952

reader’s letter to the Manchester Guardian 1952

Original here.

Emeritus Professor Of Political Thought explains Muslim Rage

There’s a letter in today’s Economist about the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya by fundamentalist extremists that encapsulates the rich blend of bigotry, ignorance, non sequitur, crude generalization, snobbery, and sheer, gobsmacking stupidity in which the thought processes of fashionable over-educated opinion stew. It also gives me an opportunity to try out my new word highlighting plugin, to guide your eyes to the peaks of this particular molehill of idiocy:

SIR – The full-blown invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ignored the Muslim mindset, which sees military defeat as a religious affront. Hence the reaction is uncompromising, and in those countries the West certainly has not won. Sensibilities are tinder dry, waiting to be exploited by any perceived insult by insignificant Westerners. Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks suggest she understands this, as, I suspect, does Barack Obama.

The West avoided outright war with communist states for 40 years because they understood, more or less, each other’s mindset. Let us hope that electoral politics, based on the naiveties of the ill-informed Western masses, does not override the need for this understanding, and for patience, in the present situation.

Antony Black
Emeritus professor in the history of political thought
University of Dundee

I’m sure The Economist published this letter, not because its letters editor was impressed by Black’s pretentious self-description, but because its content is entirely self-fisking, the puffed-up epistolary equivalent of MP Andrew Mitchell’s words to a policeman yesterday evening: lumping millions of different people from different countries and cultures together in great homogeneous rhetorical blocs, connecting distinct and distant events like a griped-up infant thrashing crayon lines across paper, reducing the emotions of multitudes to cliché, and, as always, seeing their behaviour as nothing more than a response to “ours”—it doesn’t even mention the already-known, coolly planned, and conspicuously political nature of the attack, the apologetic response of the Libyan government and of many other non-“tinder dry” Libyans, or the local rivalries known to be involved.

It was probably read out loud in the Economist offices to laughter audible storeys below in St James’s Street. I’m also sure that it’s because I am a member of the naive, ill-informed Western masses, that I also think it’s risible tosh.

Meanwhile, in the real world, actual individual Libyans show their lack of patience and understanding of the extremist thugs in their midst by storming their headquarters. Oh, the naivety!

BENGHAZI, Libya – Tens of thousands of Libyans marched to the gates of one of the country’s strongest armed Islamic extremist groups Friday, demanding it disband, as the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans sparked a public backlash against militias that run rampant in the country and defy the country’s new, post-Moammar Gadhafi leadership.

For many Libyans, last week’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi was the last straw with one of the biggest problems Libya has faced since Gadhafi’s ouster and death around a year ago – the multiple mini-armies that with their arsenals of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades are stronger than the regular armed forces and police.

The militias, a legacy of the rag-tag popular forces that fought Gadhafi’s regime, tout themselves as protectors of Libya’s revolution, providing security where police cannot. But many say they act like gangs, detaining and intimidating rivals and carrying out killings. Militias made up of Islamic radicals are notorious for attacks on Muslims who don’t abide by their hardline ideology. Officials and witnesses say fighters from one Islamic militia, Ansar al-Shariah, led the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate.

Astronomy Photographer Of The Year 2012

Here’s a superb narrated BBC slideshow of winning images from the Astronomy Photographer Of The Year competition.

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

M51: The Whirlpool Galaxy, winning image by Martin Pugh

The slideshow is by Paul Kerley, with narration by Chris Lintott and Olivia Johnson.

Those Nick Clegg apology YouTube remixes in full

In a fit of shameless Google-baiting, I collect here some of the YouTube remixes of Nick Clegg’s Party Political Broadcast apology for his and his party’s breaking of their tuition fees “pledge”.

The Original

 

The Poke's AutoTune version

 

The Simon Bates “Our Tune” dub

 

The “honest subtitles” overlay

 

If you know of any more, bung ‘em in the comments and I’ll embed them.

Parliamentary Microphone Geekery

Yesterday evening, I went a-googling for details about the microphones they use at the despatch boxes in the House of Commons because they fascinate me.

They’re AKG D222s, which I used to covet in the 90s. They’re odd dynamic mics: Unlike most others, they don’t make your voice sound bassier as you move your mouth get closer to top—they are said not to exhibit a proximity effect because bass sounds are handled by a capsule in bottom end and mixed in with the treble picked up at the other, closer-to-your-mouth end.

Apparently they were chosen for Parliament because of this unusual proximity behaviour, their resistance to “popping“, and because they are famously reliable—the design dates from the 1960s.

So now you know.

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