Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2015

A Liberal day of life- joyful and sad

Today is another day of life. It is a bitter-sweet day. 

I have seen my friend Alistair Carmichael win his court case, which takes a huge strain off his family and preserves the Scottish Liberal Democrat voice in the House of Commons. I have known Alistair since we were students in Aberdeen and have always enjoyed his human take on politics. The vindictive case raised by the SNP has rightly been denied, and will I hope rebound on the shrill and narrow minded nationalists whose vituperation against anyone who opposes their views borders on the psychotic.

The SNP have been in charge long enough for us to know that they represent much of what is worst in politics. Far from being an antidote to Westminster they are merely crowd pleasing populists whose mistakes - with the Forth Bridge maintenance schedule, for example- are beginning to come home to roost. The Economist recently accused the SNP of being Peronist and to be honest, it rings entirely true. Economically illiterate, the Scottish …

After party politics

The past few months have been a worrying time for those of us who believe in the virtues of representative democracy. The long term trend of the decline of membership and support for political parties has, if anything, accelerated, and long standing loyalties to right or left have given way to a far more complicated political reality in which populist or even anti democratic voices are now being increasingly heard. The rise of Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the United States point to the failure of conventional politics to maintain a rational and intelligent framework for economic or social policy choices. Irrational and violent solutions are increasingly being touted across the democratic world.

Chat rooms have become the echo chambers of an ill informed political culture that, despite its ignorance, will brook no dissent and which reserves the right to intimidate and threaten in support of its cause. The Scottish cybernats represent a kind of intolerance that is a direct …

The Political tactics of the Tory Shits

I wouldn't normally bother to comment on the resignation of a junior minister in the UK, but the fall of Grant Shapps is interesting for the light it sheds on the inner workings of the Conservative Party. The casual nastiness and infantile ruthlessness of the team that Mr. Shapps largely recruited has certainly rebounded on him- indeed has forced him to quit as a minister. That the bullying seems to have driven one young man to suicide is not merely tragic: it reflects a culture as brash and excessive as much as Mr. Shapps' own brand of politics.

For this is not the first time that Grant Shapps has been involved in the disreputable side of the game of politics- he has credibly been linked to Internet smears on other political figures, including some in his own party. He has also been found to have lied about his earnings from other sources, which he claimed had ceased when he became an MP, when they did not. Indeed there are allegations that some of Mr. Shapps' business dea…

A (Nationalist) sinner repents

I heartily dislike the politics of identity.

I believe in the politics of values. 

The creation on a political credo based on some assumed identity is, to my mind an exclusive, dangerous thing. Making judgements of others based on identity very quickly becomes dangerous: national identities create nationalist a nationalist agenda, class identities creates a revolutionary agenda, religious identity - well, we have all seen what that can create. In fact all can quickly lead at best to discrimination and at worst to violence and death. The politics of identity builds walls. It diminishes our sense of collective responsibility.

The politics of values, on the other hand is not an exclusive identity- one simply chooses to agree or disagree with a given position and there is no sense of intrinsic exclusivity- in fact the politics of values are inclusive and transcend national, social or religious identities.

Scotland has been undergoing a convulsion over the past few years. The politics of Scott…

Fools Rush In

The attacks against the innocent in Paris of course spur a deep compassion for those who have suffered and a righteous anger against those who planned this disgusting act of reckless violence.

However, the inevitable call for immediate and violent retribution is giving me some pause. The fact is that with clear hindsight, the response to the attacks of September 11th 2001 was not necessarily the right one, in that the goal of eliminating terrorism was not in fact achieved, indeed the threat of terror has grown, even as the war on terror reaches new heights of violence. It is not that the West should do nothing in response to this outrage, but given the escalation of violence against ISIS is so predictable in the wake of these attacks, we should beware of being manipulated by the ruthless and reckless men behind this Islamic death cult.

More to the point, there may be a yet greater conspiracy. There is a clear connection between the Chechens and the emergence of ISIS, and Chechens hold s…

Can't beat them, join them.

One of the most positive aspects of life in Estonia is that the average level of education is so high that you get used to people making good quality decisions. Intelligent, well-thought out government services, innovative and interesting technology and so on.

This is why, when one does encounter Estonian examples of stupidity, it can be rather shocking. 

There are small examples, such as allowing graffiti to get out of hand, which in the end creates far bigger and more expensive problems than an early zero tolerance policy does. There are bigger examples, such as the Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) whose small minded, identity based political world view insults the visionary thinkers, such as Jaan Tonisson, who understood from the beginning that Estonian identity must rest on universal, European values. The identity politics of the barnyard that EKRE, Argentina's Peronist party and the SNP all, to varying degrees promote, can quickly descend into racist or homophobi…

Students should be *tort* the difference between objective and subjective wrong

Students are meant to convulse - if one can not rebel during late adolescence, then pretty quickly you run out of time and the varied pressures of earning a living, maintaining a relationship and/or a family enforce a conformity of one sort or another.
The inventive and occasionally wacky ways that students rebel stretch from placing traffic cones on the heads of statues, toga parties, to Trotskyism. Sometimes students get more serious and do things that require some kind of intervention, like an addiction to Class A drugs, attempted suicide and supporting Stalin (Yes, Seamus Milne, I am talking about you).
So far, so juvenile.
However, in both the US and the UK, there seems to have emerged a class of student whose infantilism rejects the entire course of Western civilisation. Someone has offended their feelings with statements that they disagree with. Yet instead of responding to a challenge to their point of view in the the approved academic way- with rational argument- they have sough…

George Osborne's Fundamental Mistake

It is, or ought to be, true that a citizen who is full time employment should be paid enough to live on. 

So, unlike many on the so-called progressive wing of British politics, I am not in principle a supporter of tax credits. To me. the fiendishly complicated system devised by Gordon Brown was not a "leg up to the poor" but a subsidy to corporations who would not or could not pay a fair and sustaining wage. So when the British Finance Minister announced in his Budget that he intended to phase out tax credits and institute a much higher minimum wage- the so called "living wage", I did not leap to the defence of the expensive bureaucracy that the tax credit system has created. 

However, George Osborne enjoys the game of politics far too much to want to play fair. 

His agenda of the abolition of tax credits has now been subsumed into a wider ideological battle. In principle Osborne believes in a small state. He has a stated preference for simpler and lower taxes and les…

Why you won't have a job in the 22nd Century

That, over time, societies evolve is a truism. 

Yet those that survive and prosper over the longer term seem to evolve in a specific way: towards greater social complexity. The point is that more innovative societies tend to amass greater wealth and thus the ability to deploy greater resources in their own defence. As a general rule then the ability to innovate is a critical feature in social progress and international power. Over the centuries we have seen an evolution from a hierarchical social order, to a more egalitarian order, which permits the freer exchange of information and thus greater innovation. Yet the exchange of this information was for long limited by geography. Until only five hundred years ago there was no knowledge of the European civilizations in America and vice versa. Even where contact existed- between the Chinese, Arab and European civilizations, for example- there was only limited technological transfer and thus it was by innovation, rather than by exchange, th…

Connections

The average Human brain consists of at least 86 billion neurons and perhaps ten times more glyial cells. Yet each neuron, through synapses, can connect to as many as ten thousand other cells. The estimated number of neural connections is thus in the order of trillions: in fact an estimated 0.15 quadrillion connections. Brain specialists believe that each Human Brain may be capable of processing as much as 2.5 petabytes of information through these synapse connections. This is about seven times larger than the entire library of congress.  Incidentally, to build a computer of similar power on current technology would require the power of a small city to run it. For the brain it is not the total number of cells, but the connections between them that makes its processing ability so powerful. 

As for the Brain so for other systems.

In information systems, the value of an individual computer, no matter how fast its processing power or how large its memory, is as nothing compared to the power …

Climbing the Kardashev scale

Astronomers using the Kepler telescope have noted something odd about star KIC 8462852. It has some very large changes in its brightness. Most likely these changes have random, natural causes, but still amongst the possibilities is the chance that these changes are in fact artificial- that there are space aliens and that they have technology that can harvest energy on a stellar scale. Cosmologists have often speculated on how we might recognise a civilisation beyond our own solar system, and they have applied different criteria to identify the level of development of any intelligence that we may encounter. These criteria were first suggested by a Russian cosmologist in the 1960s and are therefore known as the Kardashev scale. Broadly speaking Kardashev suggests that the level of development of any given civilisation would depend on the ability to harness energy. Thus Level I civilisations could control the whole energy provided by their home planet, Level II could control energy at th…

Civics and Civility

The party conference season in the UK has finally ground to a halt, and all parties have grounds for both hope and despair. Even Labour, beset by fears over their new hard-left leader seem to have found a few crumbs of comfort, and the opinion polls show that the British public are prepared to give Jeremy Corbyn the benefit of the doubt.

Personally I find this a little strange, because the behaviour and the language of Labour activists is generally quite intolerant. I hold no brief for Conservative policies, but I am absolutely prepared to believe that Conservatives are just as sincere in their beliefs as Labour supporters. That is to say that I disagree with their ideas, but I do not believe that either Labour or Conservatives are necessarily malevolent.

However if I listen to Labour not only should I disagree with most Tory policies, but I should also generally regard Tories as an evil and selfish breed.

Except they are not, or at least they are no worse than Labour in their self-servi…

Putin takes on the Sunni Arabs and the target is the oil price

The Russian President has a pattern of incredibly reckless behaviour- the attacks on Georgia, Ukraine, the threats against NATO and all of the rest of it. Yet in a coup-de-main that exceeds almost all of his recent gambles, Putin seems to be set on avoiding the consequences of his Ukrainian misadventure. However, not for the first time, both Putin and the West may be misreading each other. The conventional wisdom amongst the Putinologists is that that the entry into the Syrian imbroglio is a successful attempt to breach the wall of isolation that has been imposed against him since his invasion of Ukraine. In this school of thought, the Russian support for Assad is largely a bluff, and is essentially an attempt to widen the negotiation by catching the West once again off guard.

However, unlike in Ukraine, Russia does have some short term and attainable goals in mind.

The fact is that the intervention in the Middle East is a serious attempt to challenge the United States and Saudi grip on…

The Media play into Corbyn's hands

Unlike many in my own party, I remain utterly unreconciled to the majority of the political positions that Jeremy Corbyn has taken in his long and hitherto undistinguished career.  I think that virtually all of his foreign policy positions are not merely mistaken but actively dangerous. Most of his economic ideas are wholly wrong and would fail if enacted. So the fact that on some constitutional positions he is closer to the Liberal Democrats than to his own party does not- and should not- leave most of our party particularly enthusiastic. 
Yet the monstering that the new Labour leader has received in the press is too much, too soon. Even though the selection of the Shadow Cabinet was amateur night in the circus and the relations between the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition and the media have clearly begun with, shall we say, a degree of hostility, I think that the media, especially the right wing press, may be overplaying their hand. The fact is that the shrill tone ado…

In Praise of Manly Virtues

In a world where we still struggle to redress the wrongs done to women, both historic wrongs and present ones, it can sometimes seem that to praise the assumed masculine virtues is still -somehow- to denigrate women.

The masculine stereotypes are deconstructed and criticised to the point that it is sometimes hard to remember that just as there are specific virtues to the feminine so there are specific virtues to the masculine. In a world where words have become weapons even stating such a commonplace carries the risks of hostility, even- sometimes- of vilification.

The battle of the sexes may end in a hard fought draw- as indeed it must- but in such areas as public breast feeding, for example, many battles are still to be found even in supposedly equal societies. Personally I find it bizarre that anyone could object to a mother feeding her child and those who demonstrate hostility to mothers who make that choice seem to me to be both discourteous and even rather strange. Perhaps I feel …