Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hoey's howler

Whatever anyone might think about the wisdom of the Speaker's wife taking part in Celebrity Big Brother, it has to be said that the intervention of rent-a-quote Labour MP Kate Hoey on the subject was extremely poorly-judged. She demanded that Sally Bercow hand a portion of her appearance fee to "the taxpayer" - but as I understand it Ms Bercow has already announced that she is donating her entire £100,000 fee to an autism charity.

Are autistic people the wrong kind of taxpayers in Kate Hoey's eyes?

Friday, August 19, 2011

SNP vote up in crucial Edinburgh by-election victory

Given that control of the city council was at stake, I was a bit nervous about yesterday's by-election in Edinburgh, especially after I saw that a Green activist on the ground had predicted a Labour gain. In the event, though, it was the Tories that ran the SNP close, after leading outright on first preferences. Here is the full result on the first count -

Conservatives 24.2% (+4)
SNP 23.1% (+2.7)
Labour 19.7% (+0.7)
Greens 14.3% (-3.7)
Independent 11.4% (-)
Liberal Democrats 7.3% (-12.6)

Intriguingly, the redistributed Lib Dem votes then broke much more for the Tories than for the SNP, although perhaps that isn't surprising given that this is the rump Lib Dem support, ie. the voters who are actually content with the Westminster coalition. The Tory lead increased further on the third count, but was then slashed on the fourth after the Green votes were redistributed. The Labour candidate was the last to be eliminated, and unsurprisingly more of her votes transferred to the SNP than to the Tories, leaving the Nationalists triumphant by 104 votes. The Lib Dem/SNP administration on the council should now be secure in office until the elections next spring, barring any more sudden resignations or defections of course!

It goes without saying that this is a calamitous result for the Lib Dems, but that's almost a matter of routine these days. Probably the biggest disappointment will be in the Labour and Green camps, after both had talked up their chances of winning.

Word-Search Friday : Conservapedia on Gun Control

Just before I embark on this epic post, a quick reminder that if you haven't already voted, today (Friday) is the last chance to vote for your top ten political blogs and your top ten political bloggers in the Total Politics Blog Awards. In all honesty, it'll be a relief to remove the banner from the top of the page after midnight - it's been making me feel slightly self-conscious!

Anyway, to business. After a bit of a hiatus, here's a disappointingly unalliterative Word-Search Friday, this time devoted to some indisputable facts on the subject of gun control, as revealed by the internet's only 'Trustworthy Encyclopedia'. If only I'd known this stuff before I first got into the 'debate' with the American gun enthusiasts a couple of years ago - I'm quite sure I'd never have maintained my tragic allegiance to the forces of darkness for as long as I have...

(Click to enlarge)

And here (in bold) are the words you're looking for -

Genocide : What Conservapedia reveals has "only ever occurred" after the introduction of gun control. It appears Hitler's liberalisation of Germany's gun laws prior to the Holocaust was a mere figment of our imagination, as was the fact that Iraq was awash with legally-owned guns when Saddam Hussein carried out his genocidal atrocities against the Kurds and others.

Superficially appealing : How Conservapedia characterises the argument that gun control "somehow" leads to less crime. I do hope they paid Kevin Baker royalties before inserting the word "somehow" into that sentence.

Shift voters leftwards : What Conservapedia reveals is the inevitable political effect of introducing gun control. A great pity that Hitler did liberalise the gun laws, then - he could have saved the world an awful lot of hassle if he'd simply gone in the opposite direction.

Primarily defensive weapons : What Conservapedia reveals guns are. However, with 15 gun deaths per year for every 100,000 people in the US, we shouldn't entirely overlook the popularity of the "secondary" function of firearms.

Emotionally dependent on government : What Conservapedia reveals gun control makes people. Jeez, guys, for once will you put your trustworthiness and scrupulous encylopedic neutrality to one side and simply call a spade a spade - gun control is for girls.

Finland : a country that Conservapedia reveals has a higher rate of gun ownership than the US, but a lower rate of crime. The fact that Finland also has by far the highest gun death rate in western Europe is, by contrast, merely an astonishing coincidence.

Pekka-Eric Auvinen : A Finnish mass-murderer who Conservapedia invites us to conclude would have been stopped by an "armed citizen" if only Finland had US-style gun laws. For the avoidance of doubt, there is absolutely no contradiction in the fact that Conservapedia has already praised Finland to the skies for having the laxest gun laws in western Europe, and we most certainly have no business entertaining the thought that Auvinen would never have attacked anyone with guns in the first place had the laws not been quite so lax.

Washington DC : A jurisdiction which Conservapedia points out has traditionally had strong gun control legislation, but also one of the highest crime rates in America. In case you're wondering, the fact that Washington DC borders jurisdictions in which legal guns have long been readily accessible, and the fact that there are no border controls preventing those guns from crossing into Washington DC, is of no relevance whatsoever.

The Crusades : A topic which Conservapedia reveals is no longer taught by some history teachers in English schools as a result of gun control. (Seriously - I'm not making this up. The article actually says that.) Others topics that the absence of guns has disgracefully erased from the English school curriculum include the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust.

"Cultural reasons" : Conservapedia's devastatingly convincing explanation for why the much lower gun death rate in "England" has nothing whatever to do with the UK's strict gun control legislation. Statistical evidence? Pah, who needs it, when you've got non-specific "cultural differences" to fall back on. Yet more royalties to Kevin Baker.

"Comparison can be difficult due to the presence of other factors" : Conservapedia's devastatingly convincing explanation for why we should pay no attention to the fact that other countries, such as Japan and Signapore, manage to have both strict gun control and low overall crime rates. Let me guess - would those factors be "cultural" in nature?

"Controversy" : What Conservapedia reveals there has been over the success of Australia's gun control laws of 1996 and 2002, before going on to note in passing that overall gun violence has decreased since they were passed.

"No doubt contributes to its reputation as a peaceful and neutral country" : What Conservapedia reveals widespread gun ownership has done for Switzerland. Did Jimmy Carr learn his deadpan delivery from the Trustworthy Encyclopedia?

As ever, the solution will be here in a few days.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Michael Kelly's insinuations of fascism

Apparently having failed to spot that his comrades have made utter fools of themselves by claiming there is some kind of 'moral obligation' on Scotland to sacrifice its tourist industry by accepting joint ownership of riots that have nothing to do with us, Michael Kelly has belatedly decided to join in -

"Nationalism as a political philosophy has too many overtones of authoritarianism and discrimination to sound attractive to anyone who has studied the history of Europe in the 20th century. Supporters of the SNP would, no doubt, point to the number of legitimate struggles for independence from overbearing colonial power waged on other continents during the latter part of that period. But in those countries there were deep, just grievances as indigenous peoples saw their resources exploited for the benefit of the foreign conquerors.

Scotland is suffering no such enslavement, ill-treatment or bleeding dry."

Translation : any nationalism that is not borne out of brutal oppression is automatically fascism, but I'd really rather not utter such a demonstrably silly sentiment directly, so I'll just say it by insinuation.

Not good enough, Michael. I can do no better than to quote the words of the former Presiding Officer George Reid -

"Each nation has its own private place in space, time, history, social and economic development. Any attempt to link the SNP and the Nazis, as happened in the Kinross and Perth by-election, is as foolish as lumping John Smith and Stalin together because both were socialists. Similarly, while all democrats will rejoice in the re-found freedom of the peoples of Eastern Europe, any attempt to make direct comparisons with where they came from, and where we are, would be offensive. And any association of the SNP with violence is absurd, given the party's 60 years of absolute dedication to pacific, civic nationalism."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Two contrasting Lib Dem views on David Steel's resignation

It's encouraging to discover that the Lib Dems remain a very broad church. To prove it, here are two somewhat contrasting views from members of the party on the significance of David Steel's resignation as an adviser to the Scottish government. This from Caron Lindsay -

"David Steel slams Salmond on Supreme Court as he quits government advisory role

Former Liberal leader and Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament David Steel has sensationally quit his role as an independent advisor to the Scottish Government on the Ministerial Code, citing Alex Salmond's and Kenny MacAskill's "appalling" criticisms of the Supreme Court...

David Steel is not what you would call the biggest radical in the party - I mean, he's spoken out against electing the Lords, for goodness sake. If he thinks the First Minister and his cabinet are taking a dangerous approach to Government, then they really must be. Those of us who embrace liberal values will have to be very vigilant in the years to come."

And this from Craig Murray -

"David Steel can F*** Off

The money-grubbing motives of senior British politicians are now understood by most people. David Steel has made spectacular cash from his career – so much he could acquire, luxury renovate and then give away to his younger son a castle, while acquiring a new ultra-luxury home for himself...

“Lord” Steel has now resigned as an adviser to the Scottish government, because he disapproves of the SNP’s criticism of the UK Supreme Court’s overturning of Scottish Law decisions.

Presumably the diminutive little creep will now have more time to count his money and to sit round making unionist guffaws with his mercenary pals."

I do have a view on this topic myself, but I wouldn't want to influence you in any way...

If you want to know how "socialists" behave, how about looking at the behaviour of socialists?

Some of you might remember that I used to have a place on my blog-list for the very popular American libertarian blogger Dr Helen Smith - not because I approve of her politics in general, but because she has some interesting observations on gender politics, many of which I find it hard to take issue with. But one of her recent posts made me laugh out loud -

"I read that French President Nicolas Sarkozy disrupted his vacation to fly back to Paris for an emergency meeting to review "the economic and financial situation." Remember the French heat wave of 2003 when thousands of elderly people died in their homes while the administration and families stayed on vacation in August? I thought that "socialists" were supposed to care more about people than money. Or is this just a lie?"

There then follows a hilarious discussion in the comments section about the despicable nature of the "socialism" represented by Sarkozy and his ilk - until the tenth and final comment, when someone finally plucks up the courage to draw attention to the elephant in the room, ie. that Sarkozy is not in fact a socialist. I couldn't resist adding the following comment of my own -

"Quite. The socialist candidate in the 2007 presidential election was Ségolène Royal - she was defeated by the right-wing candidate Sarkozy. Nor was there a socialist president in power at the time of the 2003 heatwave - the socialist candidate in 2002 was Lionel Jospin, but he was defeated by the right-wing candidate Jacques Chirac.

Here's a radical thought - if you want to know how "socialists" behave, how about looking at the behaviour of socialists?"

A motorway without logic

Much as I would like to buy into Tam Dalyell's theory that by opting for devolution in 1997 we drove onto a motorway without exit heading for independence, his reasoning seems distinctly peculiar. Any parliament that is set up is bound to seek more and more powers? In actual fact, most sub-national parliaments around the world are reasonably content with their powers. What makes the difference in Scotland is our status as a nation, and the fact that our political centre of gravity has progressively drifted away from that of the UK as a whole ("progressively" in every sense of the word).

To illustrate his theory, Dalyell recalls that Barbara Castle was an arch Euro-sceptic until she became a member of the European Parliament, at which point she started pressing for more powers for that parliament -

"Not within months, but within weeks, she was wanting more powers for the parliament. Why? Because she was bloody well there."

Hmmm. More probably, she suddenly realised the absurdity of a situation where the only democratic body in the Common Market was also the only one that held none of the power. If so, she was absolutely right and there was nothing hypocritical in that stance at all.

We also learn, bizarrely, that the source of Dalyell's fundamentalist unionism was a brush with the politics of Northern Ireland in 1969 -

"...he had been warned by the then home secretary Jim Callaghan not to embark on a trip to Northern Ireland just when the Troubles were escalating. Mr Callaghan's reasoning was that he did not want a Scottish MP involved in the province.

In his book, Mr Dalyell writes: "At that point in time, Callaghan was right and I was wrong. I did not go. Scotland was tinder dry and the Troubles could easily have spread to the land of Glasgow Rangers and Celtic.

"Indeed, I made up my mind to oppose devolution for Scotland tooth and nail on the sweaty summer evening when I watched Glenn Barr, the Ulster Protestant leader, and his Ulstermen's reed pipe band, making its way along Linlithgow High Street… I believed - and still believe - that it is much better for Scotland to be fully part of Britain and not to be hived off as an inward-looking community as in Northern Ireland at that time.""

The difficulty here is that Dalyell's dream prescription for a better Scotland (ie. the abolition of devolution) actually happened in Northern Ireland just three years after the start of the Troubles. Did direct rule from London usher in a golden new era of outward-looking pluralism? Er, not exactly. The return of self-government several decades later, this time with nationalists sharing power, proved much more effective on that score.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Fringe

If anyone is labouring under the misapprehension that this is a man's world we're living in, they should try standing for an hour in the queue for the Edinburgh Fringe box office. Watching the behavioural patterns of those trying to drum up trade, it's very, very hard to escape the conclusion that you're much more likely to be singled out for attention (and occasionally even handed free tickets) if you're a) female, b) attractive, and c) inclined to giggle incessantly at very poor jokes. There was one South African guy in particular who was making me feel paranoid - he must have gone up and down the queue about twenty times to speak to people, but with an uncanny homing instinct always seemed to just miss me. Ah well, at least it made for a (relatively) quieter wait.

My plan was to do the same as last year, and see one contemporary play and one 'classic'. But there were no tickets available for the contemporary play I had in mind, so I ended up going for two very 'earnest' options - an adaptation of the Russian novel A Hero of Our Time, and an American production of Hedda Gabler. (Yes, that's right, more Americans with guns!) What they have in common is that they're both works I was supposed to read when I was studying literature at university, but never quite got round to doing so. In fact, I even wrote an essay on A Hero of Our Time without having read it. So, several years on, it was fascinating to finally discover what I was writing about! They were excellent productions and I'd recommend them both, although Hedda Gabler was marginally my favourite.

The highlight of the day, though, was eavesdropping on an exuberant director (or I assume he was a director) when he was introduced to a young designer who appeared to be the son of someone important in the theatre world. I drifted in and out of the conversation, but there was something about performing in Nice and Florence, 'fourteen illegitimate children', the Nazis letting someone go because he was so famous, and this -

"He said 'I'm not having a woman design my stage'. But she wasn't just A woman, she was THE woman. The greatest actress in all the world!"

No idea who he was talking about, but presumably 'the greatest actress in all the world' narrows it down to a few thousand.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Questions to which the answer is 'before I answer that question, can I just say how much I love what you've done with your hair'

The latest in Labour Hame's cutting-edge series of "questions for nationalists" is this :

Should the largest party at Holyrood/Westminster always have the right to form a government?

Answer : No. There is an arguable case that the largest party should always be permitted the first crack at forming a viable administration (and in practice that's how it invariably works anyway) but that's as far as it goes.

But what's interesting about this is that the question was, as ever, posed by Bomber Admin, aka Tom Harris MP. A man who we already know believes that the answer to his own question is "yes" - regardless of whether that largest party has 35% of the vote, 25% of the vote or even 10% of the vote. Regardless of whether that party is pushing a regressive right-wing agenda at a time when the public have just elected a parliament with a progressive majority. Regardless of whether his own party could lead that progressive majority, if only it proved itself mature enough to set aside its tribalism and work with other parties.

So my own question to Tom is this :

Is it really such a wizard idea to go out of your way to remind people that, because of your Neanderthal belief that a winner-takes-all result had to be artificially created from an election that had disobediently failed to produce a clear winner, and because of your pigheaded unwillingness to work with other parties under any circumstances at all, you spent several days last May actively campaigning for the current Tory-led government to take power, and therefore bear a share of the responsibility for the damage that government is causing?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Solving the mystery of the British noble savage

My exchange on gun control with Roberta X has been continuing on a thread which is now several days old, so I thought I'd switch to a fresh post for my latest response. I had asked Roberta if she hadn't told me a couple of years ago that she'd been held up at gunpoint twice, and whether the greater likelihood of that happening in her country didn't lead her to a fairly obvious conclusion. This was her response -

"Yes, I have been held up twice at gunpoint -- but I have never been beaten up, which is far more likely in London or Glasgow than Indianapolis. Nor have I ever suffered a "hot" robbery, also much more common there than here.

I do worry about you; I know where murder is most likely to strike here and what the risk factors are (illegal drugs, dating men into drugs, living in certain neighborhoods -- I got robbed in areas I should have known better than to be in at the time of day I was in them). Your rate of violent crime is higher and it is more likely to strike outside of "high risk" zones."

You’re very carefully talking about robberies, violent crime, etc – but not murders. There’s a good reason why you’re avoiding that subject, namely the fact that the murder rate is three times higher in your own country, a statistic that can in no small part be attributed to the rate of gun ownership. I’m not in any way diminishing the terrible trauma caused by robberies, but life goes on after them. Life does not go on if you’ve just been murdered. Therefore, if gun control helps prevent murders, it’s fulfilling its primary objective, regardless of whether we give any credence to your deeply implausible suggestion that it's somehow increasing the rate at which lesser crimes are committed.

And as I’ve already pointed out, you and Kevin Baker are unwittingly harming your own case by harping on about Britain’s violent crime rate – if we’re such a violent society in comparison to the United States and yet have a much, much lower homicide rate, what can possibly explain that discrepancy other than obvious factors such as the extent of gun control? You simply don’t have a credible answer to that question, and Kevin ludicrously flaunts his own inability to answer – “Cultural differences! Oooh, la mystère!” Well, as I said on the previous thread, it must be a hell of a weird “cultural phenomenon” that makes British thugs more likely than their American counterparts to beat someone senseless, but simultaneously far more likely to refrain from actually killing anyone.

The mystery Kevin needs to solve for us is the mystery of the British noble savage. Alternatively he could just consider the obvious explanation – thugs in this country are much less likely to be armed with guns.

"As for riots, given that the States are far larger than Scotland and much more diverse, it is not at all surprising "we" have had riots more recently. Culturally, you've a lot more in common with England and they've had riots even more recently. (Indianapolis, the last riot per se was over a decade ago, smallish and actually resulted in some resolution of the specific issue)."

The point about cultural similarities with England is monumentally silly. We’re culturally closer to the Republic of Ireland than we are to the parts of England that suffered riots – when was the last serious riot in Dublin? We’re culturally closer to New Zealand than America – when was the last serious riot in Auckland? I’m sure we’re very grateful for your “Riot Forecast” service, but your time might be better spent explaining your extraordinary proposition that arming the rioters with guns will somehow assist matters in the unlikely event that we have such a major incident in the near future.

"As for ABB, he failed to obtain guns illegally *once.* He tried via legal means and succeeded. Do you really think if he had been stymied there, he would have folded his hands and said, "That's it for me, then"? I don't think just "any criminal" can lay hands of a gun in either of our countries (it helps to be a careerist instead of a whackjob); but I am sure that a determined one can. ABB had determination."

First point – you still haven’t answered the question of whether it would have been a good thing if, having failed in a serious attempt to obtain guns illegally, he had been prevented from doing so legally. Your implicit answer seems to be “it doesn’t matter”, which is frankly bizarre. However, you raise an interesting point about the determination of criminals to lay their hands on weapons, and this probably gets to the nub of why gun control is such a successful tool in suppressing the murder rate – as you openly conceded yourself, not all criminals will go to any lengths to obtain a gun illegally. Some may, but others will just commit crime opportunistically, and if they don’t happen to have a gun to hand at the time, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that they’re much less likely to kill anyone.

"You cannot get rid of guns. It's impossible; not even totalitarian states manage to do so. All you can do is reduce the law-abiding to a pool of helpless victims for any lunatic or predator.

That is an unacceptable outcome."

Nobody is claiming we can “get rid of guns”. But people certainly are claiming that we can limit access to them, and as a result suppress both the gun death rate and the overall homicide rate. The statistical evidence from our two countries leaves you on very weak ground in attempting to dispute that.