Saturday, August 04, 2007


DK has created a home for responses to Comment is Free. CiFWatcher.

It is just getting started but should be well worth keeping an eye on. Comment is Free is central to the mainstream Left's presence in the blogosphere. That makes fisking or otherwise rebutting Comment is Free articles a fine task for any right-wing blogger. If you'd like to contribute e-mail DK.

Charlie Bell - If this is the future of the Left...

Cross-posted from CiF Watcher

Charlie Bell's "I'm young but I care" article for Comment is Free is quite the demonstration of why 'grown-up' politicians shouldn't take the voice of 'the youth' too seriously:

"A common response, by one of my friends, to any questions that could possibly touch on the area of politics is: "I don't care - I'm not really interested in politics." But who can blame him? Not a week seems to go by without yet another depressing statistic about today's youth in this country. Not only do we have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe, but the Institute for Public Policy Research has just released a report that brands British teenagers the worst behaved in Europe. With gun crime, drug taking and binge drinking never far away from the headlines, we must be an appalling generation."

That's a complete non sequitur. There is no reason to expect that depressing statistics make people less likely to engage with politics. If things are going alright already why try to make a difference? By contrast, serious problems like those identified by the IPPR suggest that getting involved is worthwhile.

"And even those who claim to be in touch with the youth miss the point. The famous "hug-a-hoodie" idea (unfairly attributed to the Conservatives) highlights this - just because people wear a hoodie and hang around with their friends doesn't mean the next thing they'll be doing is smashing up a cafe or binge drinking. You don't see police community support officers marching up to Costa or Starbucks and breaking up a group of middle-aged women simply because they are all wearing jeans. It sounds ridiculous, but the only reason needed to stop young people who are innocently walking the streets is an item of clothing. And that makes us the terrible generation?"

This is staggeringly ignorant:

  • Middle-aged women wearing jeans don't terrorise the law-abiding, particularly senior citizens, into staying at home after dark.
  • The 'hoodie' isn't just one more item of clothing. It has a particular function in hiding the wearer's face that aids criminality, petty or serious. That is why it is associated with criminality and rightly causes suspicion.
  • Just because not all those wearing hoodies are trouble does not mean suspicion is ill-founded.
"We are the IT-literate generation, the generation that will (seemingly to the horror of the media) eventually take over as this country's leaders. Maybe those who constantly talk of saving the world for "our children and grandchildren" should wake up and realise that's us. We are the future, and we need to be included. Every time someone young comes up with a new idea, they are beaten down for being inexperienced. Take David Cameron, for example. It's taboo to talk about elderly statesmen being too old for the job, for fear of being ageist, but the moment a young politician or commentator opens his mouth to speak, they are criticised for being too young to have any worthwhile ideas."

'Charlie' is clearly too young to remember the last election. Michael Howard faced frequent criticism for being too old. He is also clearly too poorly informed to have noticed the masses of criticism Menzies Campbell has faced for his age. Eric Forth's shouting "declare your interest" during an early question Campbell was trying to ask the Prime Minister on pensions was a particular high point. By contrast, David Cameron used his relative youth as a selling point in the Conservative leadership election.

"The answer is simple - young people feel strongly about things that will affect them. Climate change is going to flood my house, not that of my grandmother."

Actually even under Stern's "alarmist and incompetent" (PDF) analysis, it isn't myself and Charlie's generation that will pay the price for climate change. As Nordhaus noted the majority of the harms Stern identifies come after 2800. With decent flood defences and if he avoids living in an eco-town on a flood plain he should be fine.

If this is the future of the Left politics is about to get fun if infuriating.

Eco-Socialists hate flying

This is my problem with green politics at its most eco-socialist: I don't think they're doing what any attempt at forming environmental policy should be doing - trading off expected costs to climate change against the costs of stopping us doing the things we love. They don't love the things we do.

They hate flying:

"Except there's a catch. The truth is, I don't feel I'm making any sacrifice at all. Because I hate flying."


"Even before kids came along, I hated flying. Irrational, I know, but I find it frightening: the loss of control, the sheer helplessness up in the sky. I can make my palms sweat just thinking about it."

Now, do we believe that when Jonathan Freedland makes the case for increased taxation on aviation he is thinking "while it isn't to my taste I understand that other people enjoy flying, what a shame we have to cut down to save the environment"? Or, do we think he has "Good. Bloody planes" running through his head?

I reckon it's the latter and I don't think Freedland is alone. They don't like planes, cars and the rest of modern, industrial life. They don't possess the humility to accept that others do. Green politics provides an excuse to push lifestyles in a direction their hippy movement has been pushing for decades.

That's why they'll ignore that, for example, trains aren't better than planes for the environment if they go at a decent speed (as the one pictured in Freedland's article does). From an article by Monbiot of all people:

"Though trains traveling at normal speeds have much lower carbon emissions than airplanes…. energy consumption rises dramatically at speeds above 125 miles per hour…. If the trains are powered by electricity, and if that electricity is produced by plants burning fossil fuels, they cause more C02 emissions than planes."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Funniest libertarian article title ever...

I'm really quite ill so pearls of wisdom will have to wait till tomorrow at the earliest. However, in place of actual analysis I give you the funniest libertarian article title ever - linked from a Ludwig von Mises Institute blog - USA Survival.Org's wonderful:

Secret Agenda: Law of the Sea Treaty Provides Elements of World Government; U.N. "Mother of the Oceans" Exposed as Radical Socialist and Loony Leftist Who "Taught" Dogs to Type and Play Piano

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jokes and the Lucas Critique

Someone repeated an old joke in an e-mail discussion earlier today:

"The French intellectual says: 'Sure, it works in practice... but does it work in theory?'"

The joke is that some people, usually French, have no interest in the real world and prefer academic houses of cards.

However, the French intellectual's question is actually quite legitimate. Consider the Lucas critique, Wikipedia's description is quite good:

"The Lucas Critique says that it's naive to try to predict the effect of a policy experiment based on correlations in historical data, especially high-level aggregated historical data. For example, Fort Knox has never been robbed, but that doesn't mean we can safely eliminate the guards, since the incentive (not) to rob Fort Knox depends on the presence of the guards. If we do want to predict the effect of a policy experiment, we must model the "deep parameters" (preferences, technology and resource constraints) that govern individual behaviour. We can then predict what individuals will do conditional on the change in policy."

Many theories may appear to work in practice. A great example is the Galbraithian explanation of the Wall Street Crash. It took an examination of the theory by a host of economists, most notably Milton Friedman, to reveal its vulnerability.


Two great posts over at Mr. Eugenides.

First, he spots that the cartoon I pointed to earlier today is one of four using the same theme in the major national newspapers. Even with the Seventh Seal on re-release what are the odds?

Second, apparently Brown's policy that all government buildings will fly the Union Jack does not apply to the Scottish institutions. The possibility of parodying modern British politics grows ever more remote.

Peter Brookes in the Times

This is a great cartoon from Peter Brookes.

I watched The Seventh Seal recently and really liked it. It explores complex themes with a commendable lightness of touch and some truly arresting symbolism like that above.

News from Iraq has been so dismal the central thesis of the cartoon that, in meeting President Bush, Gordon Brown risks the electoral poison of association with that conflict seems very plausible. Richard Posner's decision theory case for leaving (via Stumbling and Mumbling) seems quite strong if there really is a negligible "expectation of a victory" and that has been my understanding of the situation.

However, it now seems possible that things will might turn out better than expected, if still nowhere near what was hoped for in the heady days immediately following Saddam's fall. Bush and Iraq might, therefore, not be quite the liability that the cartoon suggests they will be for Brown. This editorial from the New York Times suggests some genuine good news coming out of the country:

"Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily "victory" but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated -- many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008."

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Michigan TaxPayers' Alliance

The Michigan TaxPayers' Alliance are way cooler than we are. A giant pig called Mr. Perks would be so much fun...

Still, we have That makes us the "official" TPA even if we don't have a giant fibre glass pig. Welcome to the Internet age.

Rankings and other trivia

I don't agree with the conclusions Chris comes to in his discussion of the ranking Iain Dale is trying to create. While I entirely agree with most of what he says, the ranking won't be a reliable guide to the 'best blogs', I think it, and the associated book, should be welcomed for practical reasons:

Blogging is, for most people, better when there are a larger number of people doing it. There are huge network effects as more people blogging opens more channels. I, and most others I think, enjoy blogging most when there are people responding to my posts and when there are interesting posts to respond to. It is a curiously anti-social social activity but a social activity nonetheless.

Now, an initiative like Dale's can serve an important function as a book, and a ranking, are a fine way of drawing attention to blogging. Of raising its profile and in doing so introducing new people to the pasttime. If some of them turn out to be interesting writers my 'blogging life' will be improved. If I take part in the ranking, and encourage others of an intellectual disposition to do the same, that will strengthen the chances of the blogs listed being ones that I like and should make the book a more effective way of drawing people I want to engage with into the blogosphere.

Green Cars

A report of mine looking at the cost and effectiveness of 'green cars' in government is on the TaxPayers' Alliance website.

In all my life outside of the Westminster bubble (for the uninitiated this is roughly between Victoria Station, the Thames and Trafalgar Square and is where most government departments and political parties are based) I have never seen one of these cars. When I go out for lunch around the office, right in the middle of the bubble, I will regularly see three or four in the space of a quarter of an hour.

It always rings alarm bells when government is wildly enthusiastic for a product ordinary consumers have rejected. The only people who drive these things in any numbers are Hollywood movie stars and British politicians. Neither group faces a hard budget.

As a result of those alarm bells I looked into the numbers. £888,000 wasted on an insignificant contribution to curbing emissions (even using government emissions figures and ignoring questions about the dust-to-dust emissions from a hybrid). Sure enough, ordinary people get it right again.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Top 20

Iain Dale is running a poll for the top hundred UK political blogs. You need to e-mail him with your top twenty (Top 20 in the subject line). Writing a book ranking bloggers is a sure-fire way of pissing huge numbers of people off so Iain deserves some credit for putting himself in the firing line.

I won't put my top twenty up here as I'm sure to forget someone and I'd rather my indiscretion wasn't public.