Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Guardian brought to its knees by US Air Force ban...or not

I was about to write a post saying what a moral outrage it is that the US Air Force has banned its personnel from accessing not only the WikiLeaks site, but also the 25 mainstream media websites that have published the leaked cables. I was also going to ponder the question of what the decision tells us about the true nature of America's "open society" and the supposedly sacred principle of free speech. But in truth the decision is just very, very silly, given that anyone wanting to access the information will still be able to do so if they just wait a while (or phone their Mum).

Does the Air Force imagine they're "punishing" the websites in some way? If so, I'm sure the Guardian will just about be able to survive the blow - somehow I don't think US military personnel are that newspaper's natural demographic...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Out of their depth? Not in the cables.

A few days ago, I left a comment on Daily Record journalist Torcuil Chrichton's blog post about the Megrahi WikiLeaks cables. I had a sneaking - and accurate - suspicion it would never appear given that none of his posts seem to have any comments on them, so I'd intended to post it here after a few days if it never showed up. Unfortunately I completely forgot to save it! However, the gist of it was that Torcuil had essentially "gold-plated" what was actually in the documents - as far as I could see, there was no basis for his claim that Alex Salmond "did not expect" Hillary Clinton to criticise him. Nor, for that matter, was it accurate to imply that Clinton ever did criticise Salmond personally. Torcuil also claimed that the Americans felt the Scottish government were "out of their depth", and the use of quotation marks suggested that was a direct quote. Indeed it was - but from the Guardian's over-excited interpretation of the cables, not from the cables themselves. Nowhere did Torcuil make that clear, and I've little doubt many of his readers would have gained a false impression as a result.

Of course, it's entirely Torcuil's prerogative if he wants to let comments through, and indeed I ended up blocking a handful on this blog at the height of my run-in with the gundamentalists, but I wonder if he's noticed that it is actually possible to switch the comments facility off altogether? I mean, if he's literally not planning to let any comments through at all...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Incontestably contradictory

I'm slightly bemused by the insufferable Daniel Hannan's list of twelve "incontestable" reasons for voting No in the AV referendum, not least because two of them directly contradict each other. Observe...

"4. AV IS ‘EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL’ THAN THE CURRENT SYSTEM: So concluded the independent Royal Commission chaired by the senior Liberal Democrat Roy Jenkins in 1998.

11. AV WILL MAKE POLITICIANS’ PROMISES EVEN MORE MEANINGLESS: AV is a system which will deliver more hung parliaments and therefore necessitate more coalitions. Coalitions mean political leaders picking and choosing which parts of their manifesto they seek to implement after you’ve voted for it, meaning you cannot have confidence that they will stick by any of the promises they have made if they enter government."

Simple question, Mr Hannan - how precisely will AV make hung parliaments more likely if it is EVEN LESS PROPORTIONAL than the current system? More pertinenently, if the (laudable) premise of question 4 is that too little proportionality is an inherently bad thing, how can the (bogus) prospect of greater proportionality under AV become an inherently bad thing by question 11?

The most nonsensical of all the reasons, though, are numbers 2 and 3 -

"2. AV IS UNFAIR: Supporters of fringe parties can end up having their vote counted five or six times – and potentially decide the outcome of the election – while people who backed the mainstream candidates only get one vote.

3. AV IS UNEQUAL: AV treats someone’s fifth or sixth choice as having the same importance as someone’s else’s first preference – but there is a big difference between positively wanting one candidate to win and being able to ‘put up with’ another."

Memo to Dan : many people are voting for a candidate to 'put up with' as it is. It's not as if we get to choose the shortlist, is it? In each count of an AV ballot, everyone's vote counts just ONCE - exactly as present. Indeed, votes for the 'mainstream' parties remain more meaningful, as they are successfully preventing those parties from being eliminated in the early counts. But what does change is that in the later stages, everyone has an equal chance to choose between the two leading candidates. That's not a fifth or a sixth choice - it's a first choice between the candidates remaining in contention at that point, and is therefore indistinguishable from the routine process of plumping for the best (or least worst) candidate that happens to be on offer in any election. FPTP votes are not weighted according to the enthusiasm of each elector for their choice, but if they were you'd find variations every bit as stark as anything you'd encounter under AV.

And what is Hannan's alternative? Most FPTP contests are de facto two-horse races, just like the final count of an AV ballot - the only difference being that a huge chunk of the electorate are effectively excluded from having their say on the outcome. So Hannan favours a continuation of the current tyranny of forcing supporters of smaller parties to choose between voting in the 'real election' that consists of the top two candidates, and voting honestly but disenfranching themselves in the process. The fact that the likes of Hannan and David Blunkett evidently regard that disenfranchisement as a thoroughly desirable thing is really quite startling.

It's equidistance, Jim, but not as we know it

I don't know if it's just me, but every time I hear Tavish Scott speak about the SNP government these days, I get the feeling he's mixed them up with the Khmer Rouge or the Ba'ath Party somewhere along the line. Is he cynically attempting to prepare the ground for his personal preference of an uncomfortable post-election alliance with Labour by relentlessly exhorting his party to view the alternative as unthinkable? Perish the thought. Here's the latest example of constructive opposition in the wake of Stewart Stevenson's resignation -

"Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said: 'The people of Scotland deserve an awful lot better than they're getting at present from the SNP.

'The first minister needs to stand up and take responsibility for the shambles his government is in.'"

"a lot better than they're getting at present from the SNP"...given the context, I can only assume he's talking about snow? If by any chance the Scott/Gray Dream Team is in harness by this time next year, that might just prove to be something of a hostage to fortune.